In a small room at the police forensic center in Kabul, Afghanistan, a black cloth covers the only window, allowing what goes on inside to remain secret.
There, when girls and women are the victims of “moral crimes” including rape, sexual assault, or premarital sex, is where they are taken to undergo “virginity tests,” in which police look for signs that they were previously sexually active, according to a new report in the New York Times.
The invasive and unscientific vaginal and rectal exams — in which investigators look for signs that the hymen is broken — are a longstanding practice in the country, though President Ashraf Ghani promised last year to end them.
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A girls’ hymen can be broken for many reasons besides sex, but in a culture where sexual purity is prized, girls and women have begun paying as much as $1,500 to have their hymen allegedly “repaired,” according to the report.
“It is a big deal in Afghanistan,” one woman told the paper. “If your hymen is broken, it is finished — you fall into hell.”
One girl in northern Afghanistan was jailed for three months after being arrested for running away with a young man and forced to undergo an exam that showed her hymen had been damaged. A second exam then allegedly verified her virginity and she was released.
Human rights activists have long protested the exams as a method of police investigation.
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“The circumstances of virginity test are never humane,” Soraya Sobhrang, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told the Times. “In conducting virginity tests, no one asks for the consent of the victim or the suspect — 99% of the virginity tests are conducted by force and without considerations of its legality.”
And yet since Ghani made his promise, dozens of exams have still been carried out by police.
In July, a teen girl and a young man accused of adultery were attacked by an angry mob in the streets of Kabul. The car they were found in was set on fire, and when police responded, they chased down the girl and arrested her rather than the arsonists. She was taken for a virginity test, according to the New York Times.
There were 42 virginity tests in the first half of 2016, on pace to match the year before.
“The virginity test has been banned. However, it’s a long-lasting practice used wrongly by law enforcement authorities, especially police,” Ghani said in a statement to the paper. “However wrong, it is going to take some time to entirely be stopped and removed. But we are determined to change this practice.”
So-called virginity tests are one way that women in Afghanistan fail to have equal protection under Afghan law. Global Citizen and CHIME FOR CHANGE are campaigning for all countries around the world to #LevelTheLaw this year, to strike discriminatory laws from their books and ensure women are given full protection in their countries.
In Afghanistan, President Ghani should help #LeveltheLaw and ban virginity tests once and for all.