In a prison in the Balkh province of Afghanistan, more than 200 girls and young women are crammed into dirty prison cells. Many have been here for months – and some for more than a year. When they are eventually released, they face a future defined by shame, exclusion and destitution.
Their crime is that they all failed a virginity test performed by a health professional at a clinic or hospital.
Last year, under increasing pressure from human rights campaigners, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, promised that forensic virginity tests – invasive examinations to check whether the hymen is intact – would be banned as an official procedure. The tests nonetheless remain widespread, and the implications for girls and women who are deemed to have failed them are both immediate and catastrophic.