Emma Graham-Harrison, guardian.co.uk

Young Afghans braved fears of violence to join a rare march on parliament to demand justice for the women who have been killed, beaten and abused this year – including one they said was beheaded by her own husband.

No politicians came out to meet them, underlining the group's claim that officials are not serious about tackling the suffering of women, despite a law that aims to end the abuse.

"In the last weeks we have had a lot of cases of violence against women," said 19 year-old student Kamila Ataee. "Just the women are dead, and the men who killed them are alive. We should raise our voices so everyone knows about it."

Around 30 young men and women joined the march, although organisers from Young Women for Change said they had expected a turnout of around 200. Several demonstrators said friends had been ordered to stay home or were afraid to come.

"A lot of things happen against women in Afghanistan, but no one can bring change without women themselves," said 16-year-old Zahira, who had slipped out to join the march without telling her parents in case they banned her for her own safety.

Demonstrations in Afghanistan frequently turn violent, and women's rights are still a controversial issue in a country where many men feel that women should be confined to domestic roles inside their homes, and subject to the authority of their husbands or male relatives.

The country's top clerics recently issued new guidelines saying women were subordinate to men, should not mix in work and education and must always have a male guardian when they travel – rules critics say are dangerously reminiscent of the Taliban era.

The demonstration was prompted by the murder of five women since the Afghan new year in late March, but also highlighted around a dozen other cases of recent violence. They included a 15-year-old who was viciously tortured by her in-laws for refusing to work as a prostitute, and a teacher who was stabbed to death by her brother for working outside the home.

Most of the perpetrators of the crimes are still free, the group said in a statement. They also called for an end to the "suffocating silence" from government agencies on violence against women.

The short stroll from a French bakery to the seat of Afghanistan's legislature was largely uneventful, with the young men and women carrying signs asking "where is justice" outnumbered by riot police and journalists.

They did cause traffic snarl-ups on the main road outside parliament as curious drivers stopped to stare at the young protestors. And the city's police chief, General Ayoub Salangi, also hopped down from his armoured car to offer a brief moment of impromptu support. "I think it's a very good idea," he told the Guardian.

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