By Paisley Dodds

Kandahar - Two days after she was born, Munawar Mohammed was already promised as someone's bride.

But after puberty and before the big day, she refused to go through with the marriage.

She had found another and fled with her beloved toward the Pakistani border.

But their freedom was short-lived. She was found by her brother who ordered his 16-year-old sister jailed.

Women have never had it easy in Afghanistan ruled by centuries-old traditions.

The Taliban, who ruled until being deposed by the US-led coalition's war on terror, were particularly harsh, but both the traditions and the tribal laws that they had so rigorously enforced are still in tact in most of the country.

Munawar has been in a Kandahar jail for two weeks, accused of breaking a marriage contract and having sex with a man who was not her husband.

"During the Taliban, for sure I would have been stoned to death but even then I would have rather been slaughtered than be without this man," said Munawar, sitting with three other female inmates and an elderly black-veiled prison matron at Kandahar's central prison.

"Still, I think I have a chance at convincing the court of my wishes."

Most of the women being arrested these days have been caught with lovers after trying to get out of their marriage pacts," said Malali Kakar, a female police officer in Kandahar.

"Munawar's tests show that she had sex with this boy and if she hadn't been bound to someone else in marriage, she probably would have been let go and allowed to marry the boy of her choice," said the female officer, raising her blue burqa to speak.

Another prisoner, 16-year-old Shakira, refused to marry a week before her wedding, also to a prearranged choice.

The court ordered Shakira jailed for five years unless her new boyfriend paid $1 700 (about R20 000) for her wedding dowry.

"He is a poor boy so I doubt he will be able to come up with the money," said Shakira, who gave only one name. "But even if he doesn't I won't have to marry that one."

Locked behind the walls of her sparse adobe barracks stripped of all colour except her flamboyant head scarf and the blue doors of the prison's outdoor latrines the headstrong Munawar says she's thankful for the taste of freedom, even if it was only for a few moments.

"Anything is better than returning to the boy my father wanted me to marry. Even in this prison, I feel more free." - Sapa-AP