Canada

Afghan government examining rape law: ambassador

A controversial proposed law in Afghanistan that includes a provision making it illegal for a woman to refuse to have sex with her husband is under review, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada says.
Veiled Afghan women attend the inauguration ceremony of the First Women's Council in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 29, 2008. ((Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press))

A controversial proposed law in Afghanistan that includes a provision making it illegal for a Shia Muslim woman to refuse to have sex with her husband is under review, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada says.

Afghan Ambassador Omar Samad said the Afghan government is studying the law, which has sparked international outrage, to determine its status, and pleaded for patience and understanding.

"I fully understand the reaction — the immediate, emotional reaction of countries like Canada who have done so much to build a young democracy," Samad said in an interview.

Omar Samad, the Afghanistan ambassador to Canada, is pleading for patience and understanding on Afghanistan's proposed family law. ((CBC))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and opposition leaders have expressed strong concerns about the legislation, which would also make it illegal for a woman to leave the house without her husband's permission, or have custody of children.

The law is intended to regulate family life only inside Afghanistan's Shia community, which makes up about 20 per cent of Afghanistan's 30 million people.

"People also need to understand that this young democracy is immature. It is not at the same standard as a Canadian or European democracy," Samad said. "And it's in a very different cultural context as well. We are going to fall down, we are going to make mistakes, and we're going to move forward as a result."

The Canadian government summoned Samad for consultations over the law, considered a form of diplomatic rebuke.

Samad said the condition of women in his country cannot be compared to the days under the Taliban, who banned women from appearing in public without a body-covering burka and a male escort from the family.

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

Critics say law designed to win election support

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office has so far refused to comment on the proposed legislation, which has been criticized by some Afghan parliamentarians and a UN women's agency but has not yet been published.

Critics say the Afghan government approved it in a hurry to win support in the upcoming election from ethnic Hazaras — a Shia Muslim minority that constitutes a crucial block of swing voters.

The law, which does not affect Afghan Sunnis, says that a wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires."

"As long as the husband is not travelling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night," Article 132 of the law says.

"Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband."

One provision says a "man should not avoid having sexual relations with his wife longer than once every four months."

With files from the Canadian Press and Associated Press