Karzai rethinks legalizing rape

After international outcry, Afghanistan's president puts the new law on hold.

Published April 6, 2009 8:15PM (EDT)

Every once in a sweet while, global condemnation -- by world powers, humanitarian organizations and righteous keyboard-banging bloggers -- proves not to be an exercise in futility. Happily, the international outrage over a new Afghan law legalizing rape within Shiite marriages is one such example: President Hamid Karzai has responded by putting the legislation on hold for review.

On Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told AFP: "The justice ministry is reviewing the law to make sure it is in line with Afghan government's commitment to human and women rights conventions. If there are any problems in the law, the justice ministry will change it again and resend it to the parliament." It's enough to convert even the most politically jaded among us into born-again believers.

Temporarily, at least, because my blind faith is fleeting. Karzai claims the fury boils down to a wee misunderstanding: You see, the version of the law he signed is different from the one that garnered all the bad press. It's unclear why, if it's all that simple, the law needs to be reviewed. (Not to mention, I'm not all that sure that a mere revision could fix a law that endorses rape.) In any case, the controversial draft holds that a wife cannot refuse sex unless she is ill, while the revised version allows a wife to refuse sex if she has "lawful or logical excuses or with permission of her husband," according to the Afghan administration. Neither version has been made public, so I'm left to wonder what exactly is meant by "lawful or logical excuses."

On a similar note, the updated legislation reportedly allows a woman to leave home without permission "for any lawful purpose within the boundaries accepted by custom." Again, the wording is roomy enough to fit a warehouse worth of interpretations. There's also no word on whether the amended law will allow women custody of their own children. If these promoted passages are the best the administration can come up with to sway its dissenters, I'm cautious of being optimistic about the review. But, please, I pray you, make me a believer.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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