Afghanistan: Karzai “legalizes rape”

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has signed a law that women’s advocates at the UN say “legalizes” rape. The new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage, and restricts a woman’s right to leave the home, according to UN documents. “It is one of the worst bills passed by the parliament this century,” said Shinkai Karokhail, a woman MP who campaigned against the legislation. “It is totally against women’s rights. This law makes women more vulnerable.”

The law regulates personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and sexual relations among Afghanistan’s Shi’ite population. “It’s about votes,” Karokhail charged. “Karzai is in a hurry to appease the Shia because the elections are on the way.” Politicians who opposed the bill, which was rushed through parliament in February after languishing for over a year, have been threatened. Sen. Humeira Namati claimed it wasn’t even read out in the Upper House, let alone debated, before it was passed to the Supreme Court. “They accused me of being an unbeliever,” she said.

“There are moderate views among the Shia, but unfortunately our MPs, the people who draft the laws, rely on extremists,” Karokhail added. The law’s Article 132 requires women to obey their husband’s sexual demands and stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least “once every four nights” when travelling, unless they are ill. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court. A report by the UN Development Fund for Women, Unifem, warned: “Article 132 legalises the rape of a wife by her husband”.

Most of Afghanistan’s Shias are ethnic Hazaras, and constitute the country’s third largest ethnic group. They are seen as potential kingmakers in the upcoming elections. Even the law’s sponsors admit Karzai rushed it through to win their support. Ustad Mohammad Akbari, a prominent Shia political leader, said: “It’s electioneering. Most of the Hazara people are unhappy with Mr. Karzai.”

A spokesman for the British Embassy said diplomats had raised concerns about the new law “at a senior level.” (The Independent, March 31)

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