Unmarried girls in Afghanistan -- one of the most deeply religious and conservative countries in the world— are often restricted to their homes and banned from having relationships with men outside their immediate families.
Brutal punishments often await Afghan women and girls who break the social norm.
Some women who are accused or found guilty of having a relationship with a man outside marriage or an extramarital affair are publicly flogged.
Meanwhile, others, particularly in Taliban-controlled areas, are tried by shadow religious courts and publicly executed or stoned to death.
But many Afghans consider these extrajudicial executions and floggings un-Islamic and unlawful.
On September 24, outrage over the latest incident spilled over onto the streets of Kabul, with hundreds of people protesting the recent lashings of two teenage girls -- one of whom was later executed -- for having a relationship with their purported boyfriends.
The demonstrators, many of them students, marched through the Afghan capital chanting slogans and holding banners reading, "We want an end to these extrajudicial killings" and "We want rule of law."
Ahmad, a student at Kabul University, believes it is wrong for Afghans to take the law into their own hands and called the lashings by self-appointed judges a "grave crime."
“We want the government to stop these kinds of incidents in Afghanistan," he said. "We have had enough of people who think they have the power to carry out these unlawful acts. Today, we have a government and we have laws.”
According to Ahmad, the Afghan government needs to expand its presence in provincial areas in order to stop executions on the basis of such extrajudicial-court rulings.
In rural areas, where Taliban exert considerable influence, some Afghans still turn to Taliban courts for settling disputes, as many view government bodies as corrupt or unreliable.
The Taliban courts use Shari'a law, which prescribes punishments such as stoning and executions.
The protests came after the killing of a 16-year-old girl in the western city of Herat. The girl, whose identity has not been released by police, was flogged and then killed along with her alleged boyfriend in early September.
A second case involved a 15-year-old girl, who has been named only as Sabera. She was sentenced to 100 lashes on September 15 by three local mullahs in the Jaghori district of the southern Ghazni Province.
Meanwhile, Sabera’s alleged boyfriend, an 18-year-old boy from the same village, was fined 80,000 afghanis ($1,600).
Beatings, Gang Rape
The Afghan lower house of parliament has initiated an investigation into Sabera’s unlawful punishment, which is reminiscent of public executions and the flogging of alleged adulterers under the Taliban in the 1990s.
But the parliament’s move is little consolation for her family. Sabera’s older sister, Shafeqa, says since her sister’s public lashing her family has been targeted by villagers, who have beaten the family and vandalized their home. She claims Sabera, who was also beaten, was gang raped by a group of villagers.
"After the mullahs in the community gathered, people targeted our home," she said. "My whole family has been beaten, especially my mother and father, who were beaten almost to death. The mullahs gathered and came to the conclusion that my sister must be punished with 100 lashes. Around 2,000 people were present as they flogged her in a field."
Sabera's horrific story is not uncommon in Afghanistan.
In July, a 22-year-old woman was shot dead
for alleged adultery in Parwan Province, just north of Kabul. The incident, which was captured on video, caused a national and international outcry.
Afghan authorities blamed the execution on Taliban militants, although the militants denied it.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the execution as un-Islamic and unforgivable, but a government investigation failed to apprehend those responsible for the attack.
Women's Precarious Situation
This series of incidents has worked to highlight the precarious situation of Afghan women nearly 11 years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime from Kabul.
Many Afghan women continue to live a life fraught with hardship in a country where domestic abuse is routine, forced marriages are the norm, and female suicide rates are among the highest in the world.
In the past decade, women have made significant inroads in Afghan society. The end of Taliban rule coincided with greater opportunities for women. Millions of girls are now back in school. Women are working, particularly in the major cities, as professionals in various fields. The country has a female provincial governor, while dozens of women serve as members of parliament and the senate.
But as the United States and its NATO allies prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, women fear that their newfound rights may be undermined in the course of peace talks with the Taliban -- the militia that denied women the right to work, receive an education, or even leave their homes during its five-year rule.
On September 25, Afghan Interior Minister Mujtaba Patang said a muslim cleric had been apprehended in connection with the Ghazni lashing. He gave no further details of the arrest.
Written by Frud Bezhan with reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan