Afghanistan: Battle lines drawn over contraception

There are indications that some Taliban groups fervently oppose the use of contraceptives and may start using the issue as a pretext to launch further attacks on health centres, experts say.
A meeting in February - attended by IRIN - between Taliban insurgents and dozens of local elders and young men in Balabolok District, Farah Province, southwestern Afghanistan, was devoted to the issue of contraceptives. A pro-Taliban religious leader spoke for almost an hour against the use of contraceptive drugs, calling them “illicit and non-Islamic”.
“Those people who use anti-pregnancy drugs are actually murdering children,” said Mawlawi Abdul Baqi, adding that the use of such drugs was against Islamic principles and should be avoided.

IRIN observed that participants at the meeting appeared to be frightened, and frequently nodded to Baqi and a handful of armed insurgents to indicate their assent. “These drugs belong to Kafirs [infidels],” said an insurgent with an AK-47.

There were no women at the meeting and no one mentioned maternal and infant mortality rates: Every hour at least two Afghan women die from pregnancy-related complications, and the infant mortality rate is estimated at 127 per 1,000 live births, according to aid agencies.

“The condom is a bad thing”

Taliban insurgents do not have a unified stance on contraceptives, but leading spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi told IRIN by phone from an unspecified location that the condom was a Western not an Islamic product. “The condom is a bad thing which spreads obscenity among Muslims," he said.

He said the condom should only be used on the advice of a doctor to prevent disease.

“Contraceptive injections and pills should only be used in exceptional circumstances... In general, contraceptives should not be used to prevent childbirth because Islam favours more Muslim children and asks couples to give birth to as many children as possible,” Ahmadi said.

Government advocates contraceptives

Unlike the Taliban, the Afghan government has been advocating the use of contraceptives in an effort to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, and some progress has been made over the past few years.

“Birth gaps have positive impacts on a mother’s health and the practice is in compliance with Sharia [Islamic] law so we will continue to recommend it,” Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for MoPH, told IRIN.

Scholars like Hamdullah Rahmani, a lecturer in Islam at Kabul University, say the Taliban’s rigid social policies originate more from “obscurantist traditions” than true Islamic principles. “They [the Taliban] are illiterate and do not know about the real spirit of Islam… they’re wrong,” Rahmani said.

“A gap of at least two years between pregnancies is entirely in accordance with Islamic laws,” said Rahmani.

Contraceptive pills and condoms have become increasingly available, especially in urban areas, since the demise of the Taliban in 2002.

Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate in Asia. The average Afghan woman gives birth to 6-7 children, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Rapid population growth (Afghanistan’s population is estimated to reach 56 million by 2050) poses serious social and development challenges, experts warn.

15 March 2009

Source: IRIN