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UN: Afghanistan slow to enforce law on women

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The United Nations complained Sunday that Afghan authorities have been slow in enforcing a law protecting women against forced marriages, domestic violence and rape.

A report issued by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan found that although Afghan authorities registered more reports of violence against women under the four-year-old law, prosecutions and convictions remained low.

In a statement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described the law as a "landmark" and said it "was a huge achievement for all Afghans."

"But implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law," she said.

Afghanistan enacted its Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. It criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault and more than a dozen other acts of violence and abuse against women.

Women have won back many of the rights they lost during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, when the Islamic movement was ousted by an American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. Under the Taliban, girls were barred from attending school, women were forced to stay indoors and cover their heads and faces with burqas.

There are fears that many of those freedoms may shrink as foreign forces depart by the end of next year and much of the international aid and assistance they brought to Afghanistan goes with them.

"The law, when applied, has provided protection to Afghan women facing violence," said Georgette Gagnon, the mission's director of human rights.

But she added that "most of the women victims remain largely unprotected due to a lack of investigation into most incidents and continued underreporting of pervasive violence against women and girls resulting from discrimination, existing social norms and cultural practices, and fear of reprisals and threat to life."

The 49-page report found that incidents of violence against women remain largely under-reported because of cultural restraints, social norms and religious beliefs.

The U.N. collected information from 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces during a 12-month period ending in September to find out how well the law was being implemented.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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