Afghan Taliban deny banning contraceptives

Officials, clinics and pharmacies reject British media reports of ban on family planning products

Taliban security forces stand at a roadside checkpoint in Kabul. EPA
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Afghanistan’s Taliban government has denied banning the sale of contraceptives, dismissing reports of the ban in the British press as “fake news”.

Pharmacies in the country’s capital, Kabul, were freely selling the family planning products when The National visited.

An article published in The Guardian on Saturday morning alleged that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate has begun to enforce a “blanket ban” on contraceptives in Kabul, as well as the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

It follows a report with similar allegations in The Daily Mail, which cited the Afghan outlet Rukhshana Media.

In response to an inquiry from The National, Dr Sharafat Zaman Amar, spokesman for the Taliban-run Ministry of Public Health, called reports of a crackdown “fake”.

“No one has stopped contraceptives,” he said.

The enforcement of such laws is normally the domain of the Taliban's Ministry for Prohibiting Vice and the Promotion of Virtue. That ministry’s spokesman, Akif Muhajir, told The National he “did not accept” the reports, also referring to them as “fake news”.

Asked specifically whether contraceptives are allowed in Afghanistan, Mr Muhajir replied: “Yes.”

The reports of the contraceptive ban come amid wide-ranging restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban since they returned to power in August 2021.

The British outlets quoted pharmacists and a midwife who had allegedly been told by authorities that contraceptives are a “western conspiracy”.

Oral contraceptives and other family planning methods have been in wide circulation in Afghanistan since the economy reopened to the world after the fall of the previous Taliban regime in 2001. They have been hailed by doctors as a critical tool for the fight against poverty, as well as the protection of women’s health and reproductive rights.

“Currently in Afghanistan, we have a serious problem with maternal mortality, and family planning is one of those ways to help preserve the life of both the mother and the unborn child,” said Dr Najmussama Shefajo, a gynaecologist who manages a maternity clinic in Kabul.

The National visited three pharmacies in Kabul on Saturday. All of them denied being visited by members of the Taliban or being told to stop carrying any specific medications.

One branch of a chain pharmacy based in the city’s Taimani neighbourhood said they had been carrying on with business as usual.

Sometimes the directorate in charge of pharmaceuticals will send us lists of medicines that should not be sold, but we haven’t received anything like that lately
Pharmacist in Kabul

“Sometimes the directorate in charge of pharmaceuticals will send us lists of medicines that should not be sold, but we haven’t received anything like that lately.”

The pharmacist said they had not been visited by any Taliban members inquiring about the drugs they carry. Another pharmacist, who runs a small family-owned outlet in the Shahr-e Now neighbourhood, also refuted any claims of being told what to carry.

“I am not aware of any such restrictions,” the second pharmacist said while helping a young female customer.

Doctors at Dr Shefajo’s maternity clinic, in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood, and another one in the Kartei Seh neighbourhood, also said they had not been contacted by Islamic Emirate authorities about contraception.

“We haven’t receive any instructions [of a ban] up to now,” said a manager at the Wazir Akbar Khan clinic.

A co-owner of the other clinic also said they were not aware of any such searches or confiscations.

The National contacted Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an international NGO that is one of Afghanistan’s longest-standing providers of family planning services, particularly in the provinces of Helmand and Khost — areas considered to be part of the Taliban’s cultural heartland.

In a statement, Noor Ahmad Salim, MSF’s spokesman in Afghanistan, said: “MSF has not been informed by the Afghan authorities about any measure prohibiting the use of contraceptives within the country. All of our activities related to family planning, which we consider to be a vital part of every women’s sexual as well as reproductive health, run unhindered in Afghanistan.”

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Updated: February 18, 2023, 3:55 PM