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Afghanistan passes 'food for sex' law

Last updated: 15 August, 2009
Jon Boone, Kandahar, The Guardian: 21:37 IST

Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.


 A young Afghan woman looks on as she listens during a women’s gathering held to discuss the country’s forthcoming presidential elections in Kabul. AFPThe new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

“It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’ to a girl who was injured when he raped her,” the US charity Human Rights Watch said.

In early April, Barack Obama and Gordon Brown joined an international chorus of condemnation when The Guardian revealed that the earlier version of the law legalised rape within marriage, according to the UN.

Although Karzai appeared to back down, activists say the revised version of the law still contains repressive measures and contradicts the Afghan constitution and international treaties signed by the country.

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women’s rights groups remain, including this one: “Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband’s permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient.”

The law has been backed by the hardline Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohseni, who is thought to have influence over the voting intentions of some of the country’s Shias, which make up around 20 per cent of the population.

Karzai has assiduously courted such minority leaders in the run up to next Thursday’s election, which is likely to be a close run thing, according to a poll released on Friday.

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