Thank you for your continued support of women and children in conflict with the law in Afghanistan. We are delighted to share an update from the first few months of 2020.
Women and children in Afghanistan continue to be arrested for crimes which would not be recognised under international standards. This means children are punished for petty crimes that would not lead to an arrest elsewhere. Nationwide, the number of children and women detained in juvenile detention centres has risen sharply over the past ten years, despite Afghanistan’s 2010 Juvenile Code stating explicitly that the detention of children should be used ‘only as a last resort’. Children and women arrested by the police face harassment, neglectful treatment in police stations and long and difficult periods of imprisonment. Innocent or not, they are wrenched from their families and school for long periods before trial. This situation further perpetuates financial and social inequality in Afghanistan, and without any intervention, they face a bleak future.
The overall objective of our work is to support vulnerable children and women in conflict with the law in 3 key areas:
- Diversion - to avoid involvement with the justice system altogether.
- Rehabilitation - to create improved conditions within detention centres to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of women and children and to prepare them for a safe and more productive return to society.
- Reintegration - to overcome the stigma they face following arrest and imprisonment, and to overcome the circumstances which led to their initial arrest.
We are addressing these issues through the following activities:
- A day release open centre for children in Balkh Province. The centre offers children an education, vocational training and social work services.
- Counselling and psychological-social support for children and women in conflict with the law who are either waiting for their trial or post-trial.
- The placement of social work mentors in police stations in the Balkh and the Northern Region to advise and train existing social workers.
- Educating and informing police and prison workers on the legal and human rights and needs of children and women.
- Advocacy – working with other NGOs and the Afghan Government to lobby for alternatives to detention for women and children.
In Mid-March, due to COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan all activities were suspended but after close consultation, we swiftly continued the activities we could, with new protocols and regulations imposed due to the pandemic. Our education and vocational classes were equipped with the necessary hygiene kits to make our beneficiaries safe. However, in the last few weeks, due to a positive case of COVID-19 in the prison we work in, these classes are now being conducting remotely by sending and collecting assessment papers once and week and conducting sessions over the phone. Our counselling and psychological-social support sessions are being done remotely. Other activities were also unfortunately affected and from March onward our social workers and lawyers have had to stop workshops and group legal awareness sessions.
Despite these challenges, Street Child has achieved positives outcomes in this period. The highlights were:
- 33 women were reintegrated with their family
- 44 women released from prison
- 3 group therapy sessions took place
- 148 individual therapy session took place
- 34 women and children graduated from our education class
- 65 women were provided with legal advice
In addition, in this period 3 advocacy meetings were held with officials from Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA), looking at what they can do to provide support and alternatives to incarceration for women and children.
Shakira* was only 14 when she fled her parents’ house to escape an arranged marriage to the 50-year-old man she was promised to. Her ‘secret’ 15-year-old boyfriend would not let this happen and they left in the middle of the night, knowing they could get caught by the police, or worse. They faced the very real prospect of being executed at the request of their own families for bringing shame upon them by running away together. Such punishments are still traditionally seen as a way of restoring family honour.
Shakira and her boyfriend did not get very far before being picked up by the police. Luckily for them, the police officer and the station immediately called a social worker, trained by Street Child, to act as an advocate and mediate between the children and the two families.
* Name changed for child protection purposes
Moving forward, we hope that we can continue our work and that the COVID-19 pandemic does not hinder our progress in the next few months. We will continue to leverage our advocacy efforts to promote alternatives to incarceration and quality legal support for children and women and promote their rights in the judicial system and communities in Afghanistan.
Thank you again for your support of this crucial work and Street Child is looking forward to sharing with you even more news and progress from our work in 2020!