New Law in Afghanistan Draws International Criticism and Presidential Review for Potential Negative Impact on the Rights of Women
Friday, April 10, 2009 11:11 AM

According to various news sources, a new law in Afghanistan has drawn the criticism of the United Nations, NATO and several nations due to its negative impact on the rights of women.  In response to this criticism, Afghan President Hamid Karzai states that critics have been misinformed but has promised to review the law and make changes if any part of it is found to violate the constitution and the Islamic Sharia.


The law, which is not yet in effect but has already been passed by parliament and signed by President Karzai, would only affect Shi’ite Muslims, who make up between 10 to 15 percent of the Afghan population.  The law is reportedly meant to legalize minority Shi’ite family law, which is different than that for the majority Sunni population.  Some Shi’ite officials have said they approve of the law in principle because it incorporates important differences between the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim sects in Afghanistan.  However, even they say that the law is unacceptable in its present form. 


Critics and lawmakers have opined that the law may have been hastily passed and signed to gain support from conservative Shi’ite voters who can swing an upcoming August election.  Regardless of the reasons for its passage, critics are concerned about the impact the law would have on the rights of women. 


The new law contains rules on divorce, property rights, child custody and marriage which discriminate against women.  The law restricts an Afghan Shi’a woman’s right to leave the home without her husband but “for a legitimate purpose,” which the law does not define.  In addition, the new law also states that a wife is bound to have sex with her husband unless she is ill.  Critics of the law say that this essentially legalizes marital rape.  The new law also forbids women from working or getting an education without the express permission of their husbands, diminishes the right of mothers to be their children’s guardians after a divorce, and makes it impossible for women to inherit property such as homes and land from their husbands despite the ability of husbands to inherit such property from their wives. 


In a statement posted on the agency’s website, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated the law was a “huge step in the wrong direction. . . . For a new law in 2009 to target women in this way is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990.”


The new law draws concern not only on behalf of Shi’ite women, but for all women of Afghanistan, as passage of this law could influence future laws for the Sunni majority as well as a draft law on violence against women. 


Complied from:  Afghan Law Curbing Women’s Rights Reminiscent Of Taliban Era – UN Official, UN News Centre, 2 April 2009; Motevalli, Golnar, Law For Afghan Shi’ites Stirs Anger And Concern, Reuters, 2 April 2009;  Gall, Carlotta, and Rahimi, Sangar, Karzai Vows To Review Family Law, The New York Times, 5 April 2009; Burch, Jonathon, Karzai Says Will Change Shi’a Law If Unconstitutional, Reuters UK, 8 April 2009; Johnson, Constance, Afghanistan, Islamic State Of: Women – Law Restricts Women’s Rights, Library of Congress – Global Legal Monitor, 7 April, 2009