President Karzai bowed to international pressure in late April 2009 by promising to amend a new law condoning marital rape and child marriage that provoked violent clashes in Kabul.
The Shia Family Law, signed by the Afghan President in March, appeared to reintroduce the draconian policies of the Taleban era, such as a ban on married women leaving their homes without their husbands’ permission. The law applies to the 15 per cent of Afghans who are Shia Muslims.
Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees equality of the sexes and the country is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. However, hardline theologians argue that all other provisions are overridden by Article Three of the Constitution, which guarantees that nothing contrary to the “beliefs and provisions of Islam” is permissible in Afghan law. Mr Karzai’s climbdown came a day after he said that he had been unaware of its content when he signed it.
The controversial provisions were buried in the 239-page document, much of it written in dense theological jargon. Mr Karzai said that his aides had not briefed him properly about the details. Many opponents of the law have said that it did not pass through the normal channels, that would have included discussion of all the articles, because MPs were advised to let the Shia community determine the details of their own laws – a right granted by the constitution.
One article stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”. Another passage sanctions marital rape. “As long as the husband is not travelling he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night . . . Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”
Article 133 reintroduces the Taleban restrictions on women’s movements outside their homes, stating: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency.
Article 27 endorses child marriage, with girls legally able to marry once they begin to menstruate. The law also withholds from the woman the right to inherit her husband’s wealth.