KABUL - Rape in Afghanistan is under-reported, concealed and a human rights problem of "profound proportions", the United Nations said on Monday.
Norah Niland, the United Nations' human rights representative in Afghanistan, said field research conducted late last year and early this year found rape affected all parts of Afghanistan, across all communities and social groups.
"Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages and in detention facilities," Niland said at a news conference in Kabul, as part of a 16-day activism campaign against gender violence.
"It is a human rights problem of profound proportions."
Niland said feelings such as shame exacerbate the problem and are often attached to victims rather than perpetrator.
Rape occurs within the family and beyond and victims are often prosecuted for committing adultery, she said.
During Afghanistan's civil war of the early 1990s, rape and sexual violence towards women was widespread and Islamist Taliban militants gained strength at first because of their tough stance against the crime.
Women's rights in Afghanistan have improved markedly since the 2001 overthrow of the strict Sunni Islamist Taliban government which prohibited women from working, attending school or leaving their homes without a male relative.
However Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative Muslim society, particularly in remote rural areas where cultural and tribal laws often supersede civil laws.
"It's also a problem because there is very little possibility of finding justice, there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan penal code that criminalises rape," Niland said.
The United Nations has recommended that legislation on the elimination of violence against women make "an explicit reference to rape" and hold the government responsible for tackling the crime, she said.
Niland also singled out the growing trend of violence against women in public life, saying it was an indicator that women's roles in decision-making processes are not valued or fully acknowledged in Afghan society.
"Democracy and peace in Afghanistan is dependent on the elimination of violence and the full participation of women, as well as men of course, in decision-making processes that affect their lives and the future of the nation," Niland said.
(Editing by Paul Tait)