LONDON,(Reuters) – Libyan women and girls accused of staining their families’ honour are being held indefinitely in social rehabilitation facilities that are little more than prisons, pressure group Human Rights Watch said.
Libyan authorities say the institutions are shelters for women and girls “vulnerable to engaging in moral misconduct”, the New York-based rights group said in a report.
But most are held there against their will or came because no genuine shelters for victims of violence exist in Libya, the report said.
The detainees, some as young as 16, have no right to contest their confinement in a court of law and typically have no legal representation.
Some are kept there because they were raped and then ostracised by their families, Human Rights Watch said. On arrival, they are tested for communicable diseases without their consent and most are forced to endure invasive virginity examinations.
Women and girls are kept in locked quarters, with some held handcuffed in solitary confinement, according to the report. The authorities provide no education besides weekly religious instruction.
Escape is only possible if a male relative takes custody of them or they consent to marry a stranger who comes looking for a wife.
“How can they be called shelters when most of the women and girls we interviewed told us they would escape if they could?” said the report’s author Farida Deif.
One women interviewed by HRW said she went to a shelter after being raped in the street, for fear of being killed by her brother. Her parents visit her but will not officially receive her.
Another was sent away from home by her father after a dispute with her stepmother and found work in a restaurant.
“A year later, my father came to pick me up because people were talking. The prosecutor told me that I could either come here on go home with my father,” she told the group.
Aisha Gaddafi, a daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who heads a charity charged with overseeing Tripoli’s “social rehabilitation” facilities, promised to look into the abuses, HRW said.
In late February, the charity’s managing director told the pressure group that the government had established a specialised council to study the conditions in all the facilities, including examining the physical and psychological wellbeing of the women held there.