The Afghan Justice Ministry will amend a controversial law that imposes harsh restrictions on the rights of women, President Hamid Karzai said Monday.

"The law is under review and amendments will take place," Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul.


Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday. ((Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press))

"I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in our constitution and in the principles of the international treaties," he added, speaking alongside visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women.

The law, passed in February, stipulates that a married Shia man has "the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," granting exceptions only if the woman is ill or could be harmed by intercourse. It also requires Shia women to get a male relative's permission to leave the house or to pursue an education.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women has said the law, intended to regulate family life within the Shia community, "legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband." Shias make up about 20 per cent of Afghanistan's population.

Critics of the law say it was passed hastily in order to win the support of a group of minority Shia swing voters called the Hazaras ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential elections.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and opposition leaders have expressed strong concerns about the legislation, and U.S. President Barack Obama has called it "abhorrent." Karzai has said the law may have been misinterpreted because of poor translation.

Karzai suggests changes could come before election

Karzai told a group of legislators Sunday that he had not read the law before signing it and his cabinet advisers read a version that did not include the contentious articles, according to Sabrina Saqib, a legislator from Kabul who was in the meeting.

She said Karzai told them the first phase of the review was finished and they were now starting to meet with clerics about the proposed changes. He said he would try to make the amendments before Afghans go to the polls in August, Saqib said.

Many in parliament who oppose the law said it had not passed through the normal channels that would have included discussion of all the articles.

At Monday's news conference, Karzai also confirmed he will be registering his candidacy for presidential elections.

Women now hold 89 of parliament's 351 seats and many own businesses. Millions of girls also now attend school.

With files from The Associated Press