United Nations: Expert Group Urges Decriminalizing Adultery Laws
Monday, November 5, 2012 11:40 AM

United Nations experts urged member states to eliminate laws criminalizing adultery which are known for establishing harsher punishments (e.g. stoning to death, flogging, and hanging) for women compared to punishments for men. Kamala Chandrakirana, head of a U.N. expert body on human rights, said that “Adultery must not be classified as a criminal offence at all.” She was further quoted as saying that “criminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of their right to privacy and infringement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
According to Yasmeen Hassan, director at the New York-based Equality Now, “The issue here is not of criminalization of adultery per se but the use of so-called Sharia laws on fornication and adultery to oppress and intimidate women and to uphold patriarchal and misogynistic social systems.” Hassan noted that “the way these laws have been applied by all Islamic countries that have them on the books (and not all do) is to punish and terrorise women who are suspected of transgressing social mores.” Sometimes they are used to get rid of women for reasons of inheritance, to allow a husband to re-marry or to get revenge. However, even though criminalization of adultery is often perceived as a problem of the Islamic world, it is an issue for all major religions. Non-Muslim countries, including at least 18 states in the United States, also criminalize fornication and adultery.
Hassan also noted that anti-adultery laws are applied in a way that is discriminatory on the basis of class. The laws are rarely applied to the elite. She emphasized that they should not be used to justify inequality and discrimination. Fortunately, following ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) some countries such as Guatemala and Uganda have eliminated laws criminalizing adultery.
Compiled from: Deen, Thalif, Adultery Laws Unfairly Target Women, U.N. Says, IPS (Oct. 24, 2012).