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“I Had to Run Away”

Esmael Darman 

Psychologists are usually interested in the impact of environmental factors on mental health and human behavior. Following extensive research, modern psychology acknowledged that environmental factors should be considered important. While treating clients, it is not only individual factors that should be taken into account but it is also vital to pay attention to the environmental factors and how they shape an individual’s way of thinking and behaving. A considerable component of the environment is the resources available for citizens, including but not limited to the right to have job, legal protection, family support, social support, etc.

When it comes to Afghanistan, the issue gets significantly complicated. On the one hand, the country has experienced swift shift of power and regimes with different policies and ideologies in the past 40 years. And on the other hand, the current government has made some big promises amid pressures without paying sufficient attention to the complexity of the dynamics in a conservative, traditional society. And now it seems that with some political compromises on the table, human rights are pretty much on the line.

The women charged with "moral crimes" are mainly the product of a dysfunctional family and social environment. ~ Esmael Darman. Photo courtesy MuslimPresence

Having said that, the main concern is that human rights should not be a political tool or dealt with as a political agenda. Human rights, a component of which is access to good health services and mental support, are not temporary concerns. They don’t – and shouldn’t – expire the way political tactics or strategies do. Therefore, it is important that people’s rights, and in this specific case mental health issues, should be taken seriously. One of these problems is the imprisonment of women charged with “moral crimes.” It is pretty obvious that if not all at least some of these women have not committed any crimes except fleeing from a traumatic environment or forced marriages or both. However, one thing is clear: regardless of how their problem is addressed, putting them in jail is unjust and detrimental to their mental health.

Of course we need culturally-sensitive solutions to our culturally-sensitive problems. Therefore, it is up to the government, the judicial branch, and other parties involved to explore proper, practical, and effective solutions to this problem. One thing we should not forget, however, is that these women are not necessarily the producer of moral crimes. They are the product of a bigger problem: poverty, lack of education, shattered family system, poor family upbringing, addiction, abusive relationships, physical and sexual trauma and other similar problems. This vicious cycle must be broken.

By clicking on this link, you can view a report on the recent 120-page report by Human Rights Watch entitled “I Had to Run Away,” which has focused on some 400 women who have been arrested and imprisoned for “moral crimes.”


This is the link to the full report: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/03/28/i-had-run-away

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Rawan Online is the first website on psychology and mental health for Afghans covering a wide range of topics related to health and relationships.

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