Taleban-style law for women in Afghanistan is dropped after outcry

Kabul, Afganistan - A controversial law condoning marital rape and reintroducing Taleban-era rules for Afghan women has been shelved after an outcry in the West.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry said that the law had not been enacted, while Justice Ministry officials said that its contents might be reconsidered. The legislation was put on hold pending a review.

“The Justice Ministry is reviewing the law to make sure it is in line with the Afghan Government’s commitment to human rights and women rights conventions,” Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry in Kabul, said.

The British Government expressed alarm at the law, which applies to the 15 per cent of the Afghan population that is Shia Muslim. President Obama called the law “abhorrent” at the Nato summit in Strasbourg last week.

The Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.

Human rights activists cited a large number of provisions in the law that appeared to disregard those commitments in a draft leaked to The Times.

One of the most controversial articles stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”.

Later the law explicitly 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,” Article 132 says. “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.

Some opposition figures accused President Karzai of attempting to curry favour with conservative Shia party leaders before presidential elections in August. The Shia community has represented one of the best-organised voting blocs since 2001 and is being courted by several candidates.

His Government said on Saturday that criticism of the law was misplaced. “We understand the concerns of our allies in the international community,” President Karzai said during a televised press conference in Kabul.

“Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”

Some Afghan MPs suggested that the leaked draft of the law did not contain important amendments that were added to the final version. The law was passed by parliament last month and several women MPs whom The Times contacted said that it did so without debate after conservative religious leaders claimed that this was unnecessary.

Reaction to the law among Shia women was largely supportive, Ruqiya Nayel, a Shia woman MP from Ghor province, said.

“This law clearly violates our rights,” she told The Times. “Unfortunately most of the women I represent welcome this law because 98 per cent of women are uneducated and do not know their rights. A very few educated women are very sad about it.”