By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghan women and girls uprooted by violence and living in camps in major cities are most vulnerable to abuse by male family members, who treat them like prisoners and sell them "like animals" into marriage, aid agencies said on Monday.
Living in makeshift settlements, they face hunger and psychological trauma, and are denied access to education and healthcare, said a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and The Liaison Office, an Afghanistan-based peace organization.
Compared with other Afghans, those displaced are more likely to be non-literate, hungry, and unemployed, while women and girls are particularly vulnerable, the report found.
Afghanistan continues to be beset by violence from the Taliban and other militants, which has left more than 800,000 people homeless within the country, according to NRC.
A growing number of those displaced head to cities, where they live in ramshackle dwellings in huge informal settlements.
More than half of the women and girls interviewed by NRC said they were not allowed by the men in their families to visit friends or other family members, while many said they were fearful of abusive husbands or drug-addicted fathers.
One woman living in a camp in Kabul told NRC that women were sold for money "like animals".
"Our rights are ignored; we are often sold to widowers, blind men, disabled or old men and we have no choice to refuse marrying them," the 23-year-old said.
"We miss the outside world so much, and feel like prisoners here," another woman told NRC.
An alarming number of displaced women and girls wished to die and expressed regret at having been born, the report said.
Concern is growing that many of the gains in Afghan women's rights since the 2001 U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban are at risk.
An Oxfam report last November said almost 4 million girls were in school, the highest number in Afghanistan's history, yet seven in 10 displaced women and girls told NRC they had never attended school.
The findings should act as "a sober reminder of the need to go further in order to meet the needs of women and girls living in appalling conditions in Afghanistan's cities", NRC's Afghanistan country director Prasant Naik said in a statement.
The report called for more aid for those living in camps, and efforts to enroll more displaced girls in education and make the mental health needs of displaced women and girls a priority.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Ros Russell)