KABUL - Responding to criticism from around the world, Afghan President
Hamid Karzai said Saturday a new law that critics say makes it legal
for men to rape their wives will be studied and possibly sent back to
parliament for review.

 

 

Karzai said he ordered the Justice Ministry to
review the law, and if anything in it contravenes the country's
constitution or Shariah law, "measures will be taken."

 

 

The law, signed by Karzai last month, is intended to
regulate family life inside Afghanistan's Shiite community, which makes
up 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the country's 30 million people.


But the United Nations Development Fund for Women has said the law "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband."

The United States has urged Karzai to review the law,
and Karzai said he has spoken with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton about it. Canadian officials have also criticized the
law.

One of the law's most controversial articles
legislates the frequency of sexual relations between Shiite husbands
and wives. Article 132 says the husband has a right to sex every fourth
night unless the wife is ill.

Karzai did not mention Article 132 during a news
conference Saturday. But he said he had studied the law earlier in the
day and that "I don't see any problems with it."

He complained that Western media outlets had
mistranslated it and read an article of the law that appears to
restrict Shiite women's right to leave their homes, though Karzai
underscored a provision that allows women to leave in emergencies.


Still, he said the law should be reviewed in consultation with scholars and religious leaders.

"I ordered the justice minister to review the law,
and if there is anything that would contravene the country's
constitution or Shariah law or the freedom our constitution gives to
Afghan women, without any doubt there will be changes in it, and again
it will be sent to the parliament of Afghanistan," he said. "Measures
will be taken."

The issue of women's rights is a 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 women from appearing in public without a
body-covering burqa and a male escort from her family.


Now, millions of girls attend school and many women own businesses. Of 351 parliamentarians, 89 are women.


But in the staunchly conservative country, critics fear those gains could easily be reversed.

Fawzia Kufi, a lawmaker who opposed the legislation,
said this week that the law undermines all advances for Afghan women in
the last seven years.