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Afghan mothers forced to share jail space with their children

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Afghanistan, a nation whose attitude towards women has often been denounced as being medieval and cruel, has yet another strike against it when dealing with human rights. Many Afghan women, convicted of little more than refusing arranged marriages are being imprisoned - and must look after their children in the tiny jail cells provided.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In Badam Bagh prison, here are at least 62 children living with their mothers, many of whom have not been legally charged with any crime. 

One mother has been for three months after she shot a man who just raped her at gunpoint and then turned the weapon on herself. She has not yet been charged. She has eight months left to serve of her sentence for trying to divorce her husband. Giving birth in prison to a son, mother and child share a jail cell together. 

Many Afghan women here are serving up to seven years for leaving their husband. As many as six people share a single cell.

Inmates attend a variety of classes during the week, ranging from basic literacy, to crafts and sewing, with the intention of giving the women a skill once they leave the prison.

In spite of new laws being introduced when the Taliban was ousted here 12 years ago, human rights activists say very little has changed for women in Afghanistan in the past decade.

One woman's story here is typical. Fleeing to Kabul, the country's capital, she left her home in the northern Kunduz province following beatings. Alone in a strange city, she called the only person she knew, her husband's cousin.

He surprised her by saying that he would help her but was too busy to pick her up so sent a friend. That friend then took her to "some house" and raped her. Shooting him after he left the gun on a table and to turn up the TV, she then shot herself in the head and woke up three days later in hospital. She landed in Badam Bagh within days.

Another woman here merely wanted a divorce from her husband.  "I wanted to get a divorce but he wouldn't let me go. I never wanted to marry him. I loved someone else but my father made me. He threatened to kill me if I didn't.

"When I went to court for the divorce, instead of giving me a divorce, they charged me with running away," she said.

The baby she gave birth to while incarcerated is her husband's and he has even offered to have the courts set her free if she returns. She has been refused.

"He wants me to come home now because I have his son but I said no. I will wait until my sentence is up," she says.

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