An Afghan human rights watchdog has urged the government to take measures against the practice of "virginity" tests by state doctors that it says amount to "torture" and "sexual harassment."
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says women and girls accused of having sex outside marriage -- a criminal offense in Afghanistan -- are often forced to undergo "invasive" and "humiliating" tests by government doctors.
In a report published on February 29, the Afghan rights group said 48 of 53 women whom it interviewed during 2015 had been subjected to compulsory gynecological exams by law-enforcement officials.
"Since gynecological tests are conducted without consent of the victim, it can be considered sexual harassment and human rights violation," the commission said.
The report said most of the tests included invasive genital and anal exams that were carried out in the presence of male guards and others, and often amounted to "torture" with "horrible effects and consequences."
Nearly half of those tested were examined more than once, the study said.
Sorya Sobhrang, the women's rights commissioner at the AIHRC, said the tests damaged the women's "personal integrity and emotional well-being."
The exams purportedly verify whether a woman has been sexually active outside of marriage.
However, Sobhrang, a gynecologist by profession, said the veracity of such tests has been widely challenged by medical doctors and scientists.
"There are no medical forensics specialists...[or] DNA tests in Afghanistan, therefore it's impossible here to determine...whether the woman was raped or had sex outside marriage," Sobhrang told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.
The report said the tests also violate the spirit of Afghanistan's constitution, which states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."
According to the study, a number of the women forced to endure the tests were accused merely of leaving their homes without permission, which is not a crime under Afghan law.
In Afghanistan's conservative society, a bride's virginity is regarded by many as proof of her purity.
There are cases of women who were unable to prove their virginity being killed in so-called honor killings whose perpetrators claim to be preserving a family's integrity.
Sobhrang cited an Afghan practice in which a bride may be returned to her family with her face painted black -- as a sign of disgrace -- if she is thought not to be a virgin. In such cases, she said, the bride's parents must repay the dowry and wedding expenses. In some cases, she said, a groom might then marry the "disgraced" bride's sister.
"Law-enforcement agencies or any other institutions should not be allowed to conduct such tests on women or girls to determine their virginity, adultery, or sex outside marriage, unless a victim asks for such a test." Sobhrang said.
Millions of Afghan women regained their rights to education and work following the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime more than a decade ago, but domestic abuse and violations of women's rights are still widespread in Afghan society.