- By Sylvie SteinSylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
Enter the cells of the Badam Bagh prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, and what culprits will you find locked up inside? A 16-year old recipient of an unplanned marriage proposal, a pregnant wife irrationally accused of adultery, and a veiled old woman who just displayed a "bad attitude."
These unlikely suspects were accused of "moral crimes," a new category of infractions for which half the incarcerated females in Afghanistan are held. The "immoral" misdemeanors also include refusing to marry, resisting rape or being raped, and — especially devastating in light of prevalent and severe domestic violence that compels many women to flee belligerent spouses — running away from home. Numerous "moral crimes" do not actually violate or even pertain to penal code; but this grouping of offenses requires no codification. Rather, they are loosely described as violations of Sharia law, however the accuser may choose to interpret it. In other words, "moral crimes" altogether lack definition, merely subscribing to a "You’ll know it when you see it" kind of classification that allows discrimination to infiltrate the legal system.
In some respects, conditions for impounded women have actually improved. Hundreds of female inmates were previously held with male inmates at the notoriously inhumane Pul-e-Charki prison; but after parliamentary reports revealed the frequency of rape within its walls, the reportedly cozy Badam Bagh — in which women can move freely, take computer classes, and sew and sell handcrafts — was built. Clearly once detained, the women aren’t subject to any kind of "Black Jail," where beatings, sleep deprivation, and isolation in cold cells are daily protocol.
But the reasons behind their detentions remain discriminatory and cruel. These ill-fated women, jailed with their children for what can be indefinite periods of time, are surely suffering from the crackdown on "moral crimes" — the enforcement of which propagates the notion that immorality is inherent to the female sex.