Babies behind bars in Afghanistan: Inside the hellish jails where rape victims and their tiny children are locked up in near-darkness
- Most of the 202 Badam Bagh inmates are jailed for so-called ‘moral crimes’
- Crimes include leaving their husbands or refusing an arrange marriage
- 62 children live there and share cells with their mothers and five others
The harrowing stories of women and children locked up for so-called ‘moral crimes’ in Afghanistan’s notorious female prison have been revealed after cameras were allowed inside.
Mariam has been in Badam Bagh prison for three months after she shot a man who just raped her at gunpoint and then turned the weapon on herself – but she has yet to been charged.
Nuria has eight months left to serve of her sentence for trying to divorce her husband.
She gave birth in prison to her son and they share a cell together.
Nuria was jailed for trying to divorce her husband. Her son is one of 62 children living at Badam Bagh prison
He is one of 62 children trapped in prison because of their mother’s sentences for ‘crimes’ such as refusing an arranged marriage or being with a man of their choice.
Some women are serving up to seven years for leaving their husband.
Six people often share a cell and 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.
Despite some new laws being introduced when the Taliban were ousted 12 years ago, activists say very little has changed for women in Afghanistan in the past decade.
Mariam fled to Kabul, the country’s capital, from her home in the northern Kunduz province after the increasingly vicious beatings from her husband became too much to bear.
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 took Mariam to ‘some house’ and raped her.
She shot him after he left the gun on a table and casually turned to watch TV. She then shot herself in the head and woke up three days later in hospital.
The authorities moved her to Badam Bagh within days.
Nuria went to court to demand a divorce from a husband she was forced by her parents to marry.
She said: ‘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.’
Nuria said she pleaded with her father before her marriage but he would not relent.
‘When I went to court for the divorce, instead of giving me a divorce, they charged me with running away,’she said.
The man she wanted to marry was also charged and is now serving time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, one of the country’s largest prisons that has a reputation for the maltreatment of inmates.
The baby she gave birth to is her husbands and he has even offered to have the courts set her free if she returns, but Nuria has 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 said.
Adia is seven-months pregnant and will have her baby in prison after she left her drug addict husband.
She returned to her parents’ home but they wanted her to return to him. Instead she escaped with another man.
Adia, 20, said: ‘It wasn’t a romance. I was desperate to get away and he said he would help me but he didn’t he just left me. I went to the court. I was angry. I wanted him charged and my husband charged but instead they charged me and sentenced me to six years.
‘I went back to court to appeal the conviction and this time I was sentenced to seven and a half years.’
The Taliban’s ousting in 2001 ended five years of rule and regressive laws.
But despite some new laws and schools opening for girls, activists say life for women is almost the same.
Even President Hamid Karzai began making statements that harkened back to the Taliban rule saying women really should be accompanied by a man while outside their home.
A new law was enacted called the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), but its implementation is erratic and rare, says the United Nations Assistance Mission on Afghanistan.
While it might not be against the law to run away or escape a forced marriage, the courts routinely convict women fleeing abusive homes with ‘the intent to commit zina (or adultery)’ which are most often simply referred to as ‘moral crimes,’ says a UNAMA report.
“Perceptions toward women are still the same in most places, tribal laws are the only laws followed and in most places nothing has changed in the basics of women’s lives.
‘There are policies and papers and even laws but nothing has changed,’ said Zubaida Akbar whose volunteer Haider organization fights for women’s rights and sends lawyers and aid workers to the women’s prison to defend the inmates in court.
Zubeida, the women’s activist, said despite what she calls a veneer of change, little is different for most Afghan women.
‘We have the appearance of everything, but when you dig in deep down below the surface nothing fundamentally has changed. It has been tough. It has been really tough,’ she said.