Press Release: UN Women in Afghanistan welcomes government statements confirming that ‘Running Away’ is not a crime under Afghan law


For immediate release
3 October 2012

Kabul, 3 October— UN Women in Afghanistan welcomes recent public statements from high- level Government officials clarifying that the running away of women and girls from home is not a criminal offence under the laws of Afghanistan.

In a meeting held on 16 September 2012, Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghalib, Minister of Women's Affairs Hussein Banoo Ghazanfar, and Deputy Interior Minister Mirza Mohammad Yarmand all strongly condemned the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls on charges of ‘running away'. Such official clarifications are critical and can go a long way in protecting the many Afghan women and girls who are forced to flee their homes to escape violence.

Afghan women and girls have been arrested and prosecuted for ‘running away', which is often used by prosecutors as evidence of the woman's intent to commit zina. This is in direct contradiction of Afghan law, under which ‘running away' is not a crime, and where intent alone is not sufficient to prosecute a woman for zina (adultery, a crime under Sharia law). These arbitrary or selective applications of the law also violate fundamental rights and guarantees protected under international law, including the right to life, security of the person, freedom of movement, the right to health, and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home.

In light of these recent statements, UN Women calls upon the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to unconditionally release all women and girls currently detained for “running away and for “attempted adultery (it is estimated that over two- thirds of the approximately 700 women and girls currently detained in prisons across Afghanistan have been imprisoned for ‘running away' from home and ‘intent' to commit zina)

“The Government needs to ensure that law enforcement authorities do not arrest, detain and prosecute any further cases of ‘running away'; guidance that clearly states that ‘running away' is not a crime under Afghan law will serve to aid criminal law enforcement and end practices that discriminate against women said Ingibjorg Gisladottir, Country Director, UN Women. “The Government should work to ensure the protection of these women and girls, including provision of appropriate support services, and bring all perpetrators of violence against women to justice.

As acknowledged by ministers, Ghalib, Ghazanfar, and Yarmand in their statements, Afghan women and girls generally flee their homes to escape forced marriage and other forms of violence - acts that are criminalized under the law on Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Law on Elimination of Violence against Women is viewed by UN Women as a milestone in terms of legal protection of women's rights. If fully implemented, it can go a long way in protecting and promoting the rights of all Afghan women and girls.