The tests claim to verify whether a woman has been sexually active outside of marriage, but their veracity has been debunked
By Shadi Khan Saif
KABUL, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghanistan's human rights panel on Thursday backed an "unconditional ban" on virginity tests, saying they violate rights, lack scientific basis and do nothing to protect women.
Virginity tests check whether a woman or girl's hymen - the thin tissue that may partially cover the vagina - is torn, in an effort to determine if she has had vaginal intercourse.
In Afghanistan, they can be conducted with the consent of a female or under court order if women and girls are accused of "moral crimes", such as running away or pre-marital sex.
But in the deeply conservative, male-dominated country, campaigners say women are often tested without consent.
Those who fail risk jail.
President Ashraf Ghani discourages testing but there is no ban and the commission lacks the teeth to enforce one.
"Conditional 'virginity examinations' should be banned as they have no scientific validity," Shaharzad Akbar, head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Her independent government panel has no power to enforce its recommendation and its decisions are seldom followed.
"I am not very optimistic about the possibility of (a) full and unconditional ban but ... we will keep pushing," she said.
The United Nations calls virginity testing "painful, humiliating and traumatic" and wants it banned.
But women and girls still undergo the examination in several countries, including the United States, India and South Africa.
In conservative Afghanistan, where great value is attached to female virginity, the "aggressive" exams can damage a woman's dignity, emotional health and social status, the report said.
Its call came a day after a government committee approved a draft law that would make consent mandatory for virginity tests.
It would need parliament's and presidential approval to become law. The parliament is on summer break until Sept. 21.
"Despite a court's order or consent of a women, this unscientific and violating act of human rights cannot be justified for proving a crime", said Shabnam Salehi, a Kabul University lecturer.
(Reporting by Shadi Khan Saif, Writing by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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