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Critics say Afghan law 'legalizes rape'

Karzai assailed for signing legislation

By Fisnik Abrashi
Associated Press / April 3, 2009
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KABUL - A new Afghan law makes it legal for men to rape their wives, human rights groups and some Afghan lawmakers said yesterday, accusing President Hamid Karzai of signing the legislation to bolster his reelection prospects.

Critics worry the legislation undermines hard-won rights for women enacted after the fall of the Taliban's strict Islamist regime.

The law - which some lawmakers say was never debated in Parliament - is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shi'ite community, which makes up about 20 percent of this country of 30 million people. The law does not affect Afghan Sunnis.

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

"As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law 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."

One provision also appears to protect the woman's right to sex inside marriage, saying the "man should not avoid having sexual relations with his wife longer than once every four months."

The law's critics say Karzai signed the legislation in the past month only for political gains several months before the country's presidential election.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women, said the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband."

"The law violates women's rights and human rights in numerous ways," a development fund statement said.

The United States is "very concerned" about the law, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. "We urge President Karzai to review the law's legal status to correct provisions of the law that limit or restrict women's rights."

Wood added that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had met with female Afghan lawmakers in The Hague and had assured them that "women's rights are going to be paramount in this administration's foreign policy, not an afterthought."

Defense Minister Peter MacKay of Canada said he will use this week's NATO summit to put "direct" pressure on his Afghan counterparts to abandon the legislation.

The issue of women's rights is a continuous source of tension between the country's conservative establishment and more liberal members of society. The Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burqa.