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'Rampant abuse of Asian women'

Vijay Joshi in Kuala Lumpur | May 25, 2005 18:02 IST

Violence and systematic discrimination against women was rampant in Asia last year, ranging from acid attacks for unpaid dowries in Bangladesh to forced abortion in China, rape by soldiers in Nepal and domestic beatings in Australia, Amnesty International said.

The London-based group's annual assessment of the state of human rights in the world reported abuses against women from almost every country in Asia in its report released Wednesday.

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The largest section on women's rights was devoted to their plight in Afghanistan, where the group said the ouster of the conservative, Islamic Taliban regime in 2001 by US-led forces did little to bring relief to women.

While women were a major focus of the Asian report, the group highlighted abuses ranging from summary executions in Nepal to restrictions on criminal defendants' choices of attorneys in Australia under new anti-terrorism laws.

Amnesty reported moderate improvements in the protection of rights in some countries, but the list of places where rights deteriorated was much longer.

Across Afghanistan, but particularly in the western Herat region, Amnesty reported that hundreds of women had set fire to themselves to escape violence in the home or forced marriage.

``Fear of abductions by armed groups forced women to restrict their movements outside the home,'' Amnesty said. Even within families, ``extreme restrictions'' on women's behavior and high levels of violence persisted, it said.

Westernized Australia did not escape the blight either.

In October, a UN-coordinated survey revealed that 36 percent of Australian women had experienced violence in a relationship. It was also reported that domestic violence was the leading cause of premature death and ill-health in women aged 15 to 44, Amnesty said.

In Nepal, rape by members of the security forces was frequently reported and violence against women from members of their family was also widespread.

Violence against women took an especially brutal form in Bangladesh, where at least 153 women were attacked with acid between January and October 2004. Reasons for most attacks were reportedly disputes between families on payment of dowry or refusal by women to marry or provide sex, Amnesty said.

China fared badly too, where serious violations against women and girls continued to be reported as a result of the enforcement of the family planning policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations, Amnesty said.

Amnesty highlighted the case of Mao Hengfeng, who was sent to a labor camp for 18 months for persistently petitioning the authorities over a forced abortion 15 years earlier when she became pregnant in violation of China's family planning policy.

Selective abortion of female fetuses remained common although illegal, resulting in a growing gap in the boy-girl birth ratio, Amnesty said.

The report said India still lacks comprehensive legislation addressing domestic violence and that the government failed to submit overdue periodic reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

In Pakistan, ``honour crimes'' against women - punishments meted out ostensibly for sullying a family's reputation - took bizarre forms with a tribal council directing in June that a 7-year-old girl, Mouti, be killed for an alleged illicit relation with an 8-year old boy.

Her father refused to accept the verdict and authorities provided the girl protection.


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