Afghan law legalizing marital rape put on hold after firestorm
David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster
Published: Monday April 6, 2009

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An Afghan law which critics say would legalize marital rape has been placed on hold pending review and revision after it fell under intense International criticism.

The law was signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this month, but was not put into effect immediately. According to a Reuters report on Monday, it has been placed on hold for review.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to a host with Radio Free Afghanistan on Monday morning and expressed her intent to see the law halted.

"I was deeply concerned because I do not think it reflects the values of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan," she said. "This was a law, as I understand it, that was aimed at a minority of a minority, and it does impose harsh restrictions on women and children.

"Critics say the law legalizes marital rape, and some lawmakers allege Karzai signed it hastily because he faces a crucial election on August 20 and wants to curry favor with Shi'ite voters, who could help swing the contest," reported the wire service.

"U.S. President Barack Obama has called the law 'abhorrent.'

"The Justice Ministry said it would not publish the law in the country's official gazette, which would bring it into effect."

Sec. Clinton's concern with the law was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to the Associated Press.

"Merkel was on a surprise visit to northern Afghanistan to meet German troops and view rebuilding efforts," reported AP. "Spokesman Thomas Steg said she did not plan talks with officials in Kabul, but had spoken by telephone with President Hamid Karzai on Sunday.

"During that conversation, Merkel 'appealed urgently' to Karzai to review 'very carefully' the much-criticized new law, intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's minority Shiite community, Steg said."

"[D]raft copies of the bill, which had been circulating in Kabul for six months, originally set the legal age for Shia girls to marry at nine, automatically stripped divorced mothers of custody as soon as girls turned two, and boys seven, and legalized 'family-style' polygamy, allowing husbands to wed their wivesí sisters and cousins," reported Canadian publication MacLeans.

"I've expressed my concerns and objections about this law directly to President [Hamid] Karzai, and our president, President [Barack] Obama, has spoken about the fact [that] it truly is not in keeping with the direction that Afghanistan has been following," Clinton said on the Monday morning broadcast.

A full transcript of the interview with Sec. Clinton is available here.

This video is from Radio Free Europe, broadcast Apr. 6, 2009.

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