KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Human rights groups and some Afghan lawmakers criticized President Hamid Karzai on Thursday for signing into law legislation that some believe legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband and prevents women from leaving the house without a man's permission.
Critics say the law undermines hard-won rights for women enacted after the fall of the Taliban regime.
The law, which some lawmakers say was never debated in parliament, is intended to regulate family life in Afghanistan's Shiite Muslim community, which makes up about 20% of its 30 million population.
The law does not affect Sunni Muslims.
One of the most controversial articles of the law stipulates that 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 of the law also appears to protect the woman's right to sex inside marriage, saying that 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 last month only for political gains before the country's presidential election, scheduled for August.
The United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM, said the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband."
"The law violates women's rights and human rights in numerous ways," UNIFEM said in a statement.
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 any woman from appearing in public without a body-covering burka and a male escort from her family.
Much has improved since then. Millions of girls now attend school and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89 are women.
But critics fear those gains could easily be reversed.
Fawzia Kufi, a lawmaker who opposed the legislation, said several of its articles undermine constitutional and human rights of women.