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Taliban imprisoning women for their own "protection from gender-based-violence," U.N. report says

Escaping the Taliban
A group of girls describe their escape from a Taliban controlled Afghanistan | 60 Minutes 02:40

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime has sent some women to prison to protect them from the threat of gender-based violence, a United Nations report released Thursday said. Taliban authorities told the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that women who don't have a male relative to stay with, or whose male relatives are deemed a threat to their safety, have been sent to prison. It was unclear if the orders were based on court referrals.

"Some [Taliban] de facto officials stated that in instances where they had safety concerns for a survivor, she would be sent to the women's prison, for her protection, akin to how prisons have been used to accommodate drug addicts and homeless people in Kabul," the report states.

"The confinement of women in prison facilities, outside the enforcement of criminal law, and for the purpose of ensuring their protection from gender-based-violence, would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty," the U.N. mission said, adding that "confining women who are already in a situation of vulnerability in a punitive environment would also likely have a negative impact on their mental and physical health, revictimization and put them at risk of discrimination and stigmatization upon release."

The report is a snapshot of legal and judicial responses by the Taliban to complaints of gender-based violence against women and girls from August 2021 until March 2023, including murders, honor killings and rapes.

"The report reveals a stark absence of a clear and coherent framework for justice in Afghanistan, significantly hindering the process of reporting and addressing gender-based violence," Sara Wahedi, a tech startup CEO and women's rights activist, told CBS News. "This ambiguity, particularly with the Taliban's vague reference to 'Sharia law,' places an immense burden on women, making the act of reporting a dangerous risk due to uncertain outcomes and potential blame."

Since taking control of Afghanistan more than two years ago, the Taliban have severely limited the rights of women and girls through draconian policies barring them from schools, universities and many professions.

Afghan burqa-clad women walk past Taliban security personnel along a street in Jalalabad on April 30, 2023. SHAFIULLAH KAKAR/AFP via Getty Images

Girls are not allowed to attend school beyond the sixth grade, and women aren't permitted to travel outside their homes without male chaperones. A crackdown on freedom of expression and the hugely limited employment opportunities for Afghan women since the Taliban's retaking of power in the summer of 2021 have left them increasingly stuck behind closed doors, making them more vulnerable to gender-based violence, according to UNAMA.

In the two decades after the 2001 U.S-led invasion that toppled the previous Taliban regime, safe houses for vulnerable women and children opened in various provinces across the country, operated by non-governmental organizations, but they have been all shut down because the Taliban considers the shelters manifestations of Western society, the report said.

Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told CBS News he was not aware of any incident or report of someone being imprisoned in the country without a crime being committed, and he said he would investigate the U.N. report.

The de-facto Taliban government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the U.N. it was dedicated to safeguarding the lives and property of all people.

"The handling of cases is based on Sharia law and there is no injustice committed against women," the ministry told the U.N. "If the severity of the case is high, there will be no mediation and the case is referred to the court." 

However, many of the Taliban's directives regarding women and girls in Afghanistan lack a foundation in Sharia Law. 

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