Afghan girls detained and lashed by Taliban for violating hijab rules

Zuhal Ahad

Girls as young as 16 have been arrested across the Afghan capital, Kabul, in the past week for violating the Taliban’s hijab rules.

The girls – who were detained in shopping centres, classes and street markets – were accused of “spreading and encouraging others to wear a bad hijab” and wearing makeup.

Since taking power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have further restricted women’s access to education, employment and public spaces. In May 2022, they decreed that women should cover themselves from head to toe, revealing only their eyes.

Lale*, 16, said she was arrested by the Taliban along with a number of other girls at her English language class and pulled into a police truck. She said girls who confronted the men and refused to go were beaten, while she was lashed on her feet and legs when trying to reason with them. Her father was later badly beaten for “raising immoral girls”.

“My attire was modest and even included a face mask – a precaution I had adopted since the Taliban takeover,” said Lale. “But they beat me anyway, insisting that my outfit was improper.”

Lale, who was detained for two days and nights, said the Taliban repeatedly cursed them as infidels, for studying English and for aspiring to go abroad.

She was released after community elders intervened and she signed a document pledging not to leave her home without the mandatory head-covering. She has also been banned from attending her English classes.

“I was barred from school when the Taliban took over in 2021, and now I cannot even go to my private classes,” she said. “I can no longer imagine anything for my future other than staying home and getting married.

“I saw how badly my father was beaten because I went to the [English] course. When I saw his photos after returning home, I was so scared that I would lose him. I don’t have the motivation to study after this. I don’t want this experience again.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson, claimed in a voice message to the Guardian that families of the detained women had raised concerns with the Ministry for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that their daughters were supported by foreign groups to promote “bad hijab”.

“As a result, they were taken to police stations and freed on bail,” he said, adding that such arrests were “not usual practice”.

The detentions happened less than a week after the UN security council requested a special envoy to engage with the Taliban, particularly over gender and women’s rights. The Taliban rejected this proposal, however, claiming it would complicate the situation by imposing external solutions.

Fereshta Abbasi, a researcher at the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch, said: “The arrests of women in Afghanistan are a further crackdown on the basic rights of women and can be intimidating and put more pressure even on women who are still working in the health, primary education and nutrition sectors, and they would not appear in public as they used to.”

Videos and photographs shared with the Guardian by another female Afghan activist, who asked not to disclose her identity, show a number of men and women demonstrating in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of Kabul, with placards inviting people to a “beautiful life” by “promoting and observing proper hijab”.

The activist, who witnessed the demonstrations, explained that these were families of detainees seeking the release of the women and aiming to prevent further arrests in the community.

Name has been changed to protect her identity

Afghan girls detained and lashed by Taliban for violating hijab rules