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Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai vows to change law on sex

The Afghan president pledges to alter a law governing marital relations that sparked an international outcry charging it legalized rape.

April 28, 2009|Associated Press

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledged Monday to change a law critics say legalizes marital rape to remove concerns that it violates human rights.

The law, which sparked an international outcry after it was signed last month, says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse. It also regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home alone.

Numerous countries condemned the law and President Obama called it "abhorrent," prompting Karzai to suspend the legislation for a judicial review. He said previously that the law would be changed, but his comments Monday were his strongest yet against the measure.

"Amendments will take place," and the law "will not have any concerns on any account of human rights and especially the rights of the Afghan people," Karzai told reporters at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown said he discussed the law with Karzai.

The statement appeared to put to rest speculation that Karzai signed the law to pander to conservatives ahead of this summer's presidential election.

Though the law would apply only to the country's Shiite Muslims, who make up about 20% of Afghanistan's 30 million people, many fear its passage marks a return to Taliban-style oppression of women. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, required women to wear all-covering burkas and banned them from leaving home unless accompanied by a male relative.

The issue of how to interpret the Afghan Constitution has been at the heart of the debate about the law. Afghanistan is an Islamic state, and the law's supporters point to a part of the charter that says the Koran is the ultimate authority. They say the legislation in question formalizes rules from the Muslim holy book.

Critics say the law uses an outdated interpretation of the Koran to justify oppressing women. The Afghan Constitution also guarantees equal rights for men and women.

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