An Open Letter to His Excellency, Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
September 4, 2013

Your Excellency:

Please accept our greetings and respect, and our thanks for the excellent collaboration we have enjoyed with many members of your government. We appreciate the opportunity to have an ongoing dialogue with key officials on human rights issues of crucial importance to the Afghan people.

We are writing today to share with you a briefing paper, “Afghanistan: Ending Child Marriage and Domestic Violence,”, prepared by Human Rights Watch, which sets out the statistical evidence on the harmful health and broader economic consequences of child marriage and domestic violence, and includes a set of recommended actions for your attention.

As research in Afghanistan has shown, girls who marry before the age of 18 and become pregnant early are at higher risk of death and suffering injury during birth. Their children are at higher risk of poor health and death. Those who marry below age 18 are also at higher risk of domestic violence, which not only has harmful consequences for the girl and her family, but multiplied many times affects a country’s larger economy.

The document provides comparative information on a number of countries that are either Islamic states or have large Muslim populations that have taken effective steps to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18 and to pass laws prohibiting domestic violence. For example, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates are among those countries that have taken steps to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Tunisia are among those countries that have introduced legal reforms to combat domestic violence.

These issues are of special urgency given recent events regarding the enforcement of the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law). We are grateful for the important step you took in 2009 in signing the EVAW Law. As you are well aware, this law represents one of the most important legal advances for women and girls in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, and forms a key part of Afghanistan’s continued effort to comply with its international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Recent events have created controversy around the EVAW Law at a moment when a concerted effort is needed to fully enforce all of its provisions across the whole country. The controversy was highlighted in the May 2013 debate of the law before the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga; the Wolesi Jirga’s passage of a new Criminal Procedure Code that would bar testimony by family members in prosecutions of abuse under the EVAW (and other) laws; and the statements of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission member Abdul Rahman Hotak criticizing the EVAW Law.

We hope that the enclosed document can be of some assistance in refocusing the debate on the need for full enforcement of the EVAW Law. We urge you to share the enclosed document with all senior government officials and prosecutors, and direct them to redouble their efforts to enforce the EVAW Law.

We welcome the steps that have already been taken, including the development of shelters in coordination with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the creation of family-support units by the Ministry of Interior, and the piloting of specialized violence-against-women prosecution units by the Attorney General’s Office. We encourage expansion of successful initiatives and extend our full support to any further initiatives to improve enforcement of the EVAW Law and to raise awareness among members of parliament, officials, and the general public about the importance and significance of the EVAW Law. These efforts should be supplemented with the following specific measures:

• Support immediate steps to establish specialized EVAW prosecution units in every province;
• Track the number of cases brought under the EVAW law in each province and district and investigate provinces or districts with no or extremely low numbers of prosecutions;
• Develop new and effective initiatives to improve recruitment and retention of female police officers, and ensure that all police Family Response Units are staffed by female police officers;
• Support passage of a law that would set the minimum age for marriage at 18 for both girls and boys;
• Launch a country-wide awareness campaign about the negative effects of child marriage including the risk of maternal death, fistula, and infant death or poor health;
• Support passage of additional laws prohibiting domestic violence, protecting survivors of domestic violence, and improving their access to health and other services; and
• Publicly endorse and provide logistical and security support for shelters for women and girls fleeing violence, and work with donors to establish a shelter in every province.

Taking the steps mentioned above will demonstrate to concerned Afghans and international donors that you continue to remain fully committed to eliminating violence against women and ensuring that Afghanistan complies with its obligations under CEDAW and the EVAW Law-related commitments in the 2012 Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework.

We hope that, with the 2014 presidential election approaching, as Afghanistan’s leader for the last 11 years, and as the president who signed the EVAW Law, you will want to leave your country with a strong and lasting legacy of respect for women’s rights. We stand ready to assist you in this effort.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director