KABUL — Afghanistan's government has revised a marriage law that sparked an international outcry over sections that appeared to legalize marital rape, Justice Ministry officials said Thursday.
Women's rights activists welcomed the changes, which must still be approved by parliament, but many said while the government had deleted the worst violations, it has not done enough to guarantee women's rights.
President Hamid Karzai signed the original law in March but quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned the legislation. Though the law would only apply to Afghanistan's Shiite minority, many saw it as a return to Taliban-style oppression of women from a government that was supposed to be installing democracy and human rights.
The draft revision comes at the end of a three-month Justice Ministry review ordered by Karzai. The new legislation will need to be debated in parliament before it is signed into law, Justice Ministry spokesman Mohammad Reza Howeida said.
No attempt to regulate sexual relations
Two of the most controversial articles have been drastically changed, according to documents supplied by the ministry. An article that previously said a woman must be ready to have sex with her husband every four days now says only that a woman is required to do any housework that the couple agreed to at the time of marriage. The revised article makes no attempt to regulate sexual relations between husband and wife.
A section that had said a woman needs to ask her husband's permission to leave the house has also been deleted. In its place, an article states that a woman is the "owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband."
"Early reports suggest that amendments have been made to this law to ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. "The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard to the rights of women."
Though the law would only apply to Shiites — 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people — it caused an uproar because it harkened back to Taliban-era rules. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.
President Barack Obama labeled the legislation "abhorrent." Many Afghans also criticized the law and a few hundred women's rights activists protested it in the streets of Kabul in April, but they were swamped by a larger counter-protest of Shiites who supported the legislation as defending their right to live according to their reading of the Quran.
'This is not implementable in our society'
Roshan Sirran, who heads a group that works to inform women of how Islamic and international law provides them with rights, said the law relies too much on agreements entered into at the time of marriage. Such contracts aren't a traditional part of an engagement or marriage in Afghanistan, she said.
"This is not implementable in our society. There will be no agreement on any conditions at the time of the marriage between husband and wife," Sirran said. Others said men have too much freedom to marry second wives without consulting their first wives.
It is unclear how long it will take parliament to take up the draft. The legislature is in recess and will not convene again for nearly two weeks. Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said Afghanistan's influential clerics council and civil society leaders will also have to sign off on the revised law.
However, the completion of the review means the legislation could be on track for approval before the Aug. 20 presidential election. Karzai, whom critics had said might be using the law to court conservative Shiites, promised to change the legislation before the vote to better protect women's rights.
Even with the changes, some women's rights activists said the reality is that little will change in day to day life.
"We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced everyday, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws," said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and vocal women's rights advocate.
"Still there are forced marriages and child marriages and the lack of access to property, and the lack of access to divorce. Still a girl, because she's a girl, can't go to school, in very rich families even."
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