UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Rapes targeting girls as young as seven are on the increase in Afghanistan where conditions for women are little better than under the Taliban, the U.N. and rights groups say.
Conditions for women are little better than they were under the hardline Taliban regime, the U.N. says.
In its annual report on human rights, the U.N. warned conditions were deteriorating in the war-ravaged country despite U.S.-led efforts after the 2001 removal from power of the hardline militia.
"Violence is tolerated or condoned within the family and community, within traditional and religious leadership circles, as well as the formal and informal justice system," said Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
The "Afghan government has failed to adequately protect the rights of women despite constitutional guarantees."
With a resurgent Taliban targeting NATO forces, government security forces and civilians, violence has been on the increase in Afghanistan..
The number of civilian casualties in 2008 totaled 2,118 -- the highest number recorded since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the U.N. said, urging greater protecting for ordinary Afghans.
Violence against women comes in the form of rape, "honor killings," early and forced marriages, sexual abuse and slavery, the report says. "The security is the big issue," said Suraya Pakzad, founder of the Voice of Women Organization, which promotes education and awareness of women's rights and protects women and girls at risk in Afghanistan.
"Because of security we, unfortunately, day by day, we have to pull out of areas where last year we operated, we have our operations. We were able to work with the women, but this year we cannot," she said.
"We have to leave the area because security is getting worse day by day."
"Rapes in the country have been growing tremendously, particularly child rapes within the ages of 9, 8, 7, even lesser than that," said Wazhma Frogh, director of Global Rights Afghanistan.
"So these are the issues that are all born by this lack of security where women have no place in ... security decisions."
Domestic violence against child brides is widespread, said Suraya Pakzad, the founder of the Voice of Women organization, who was married at age 14 and has six children. She said girls as young as 10 face "violation" by husbands 40 years their senior. "By the end ... women, or girls, run away."
But women without husbands, especially widows, may have it even worse in Afghanistan, the report says. Without a spouse, the women are reduced to begging to feed their children.
Options outside the home are limited where the Taliban holds sway in Afghanistan. The Taliban's interpretation of strict Islamic law, or sharia, has included banning girls from school and the workplace.
Even in areas not overrun by the Taliban, women face risks outside the home.
"The assassination of the most prominent national female senior police officer, in Kandahar in September 2008, underscores the tremendous risks faced by women in public life," the report says.
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