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The building hosting the World Health Organization headquarters is pictured in Geneva on April 28, 2009
Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges governments to end the “virgin testing” of women and girls, in accordance with the recommendation of a new handbook released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The handbook emphasizes: “There is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.”

Though focusing on health care after sexual and domestic violence, HRW claims that the recommendation has relevance for all cases of “virginity testing.”

“The WHO handbook upholds the widely accepted medical view that ‘virginity tests’ are worthless,” says Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW. “Health authorities worldwide should end the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in all cases and prohibit health workers from perpetuating this discriminatory and degrading practice.”

HRW notes that the test is applied in many parts of the world. In Afghanistan, it is routinely used on women and girls accused of “moral crimes” such as “running away,” usually fleeing domestic violence and forced marriages. A couple of weeks ago, HRW reported that “virginity tests” are carried out in the physical examination of female applicants to the Indonesian police force. The Middle East and North Africa are other regions where the practice is still in use, and India has not yet systematically put in place a new protocol banning the test on rape survivors.

“Virginity tests” have been acknowledged internationally as a violation of human rights, especially the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

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