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Amended Afghanistan personal status law still restricts women's rights: HRW

[JURIST] Afghanistan's amended Shi'ite personal status law [Reuters backgrounder], which entered into force July 27, still violates [press release] women's rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday. The Afghan government announced last month that the law had been revised [JURIST report] to remove a provision requiring a wife to submit to sex with her husband after intense international criticism. HRW reports, however, that many of the law's provisions still restrict women's rights:

many regressive articles remain, which strip away women's rights that are enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution. The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

HRW urged the Afghan parliament to overturn the law immediately.

The Afghan law, which only applies to the country's Shi'a population, elicited strong reactions from outside and within the country. In April, Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile] pledged to amend the original law [JURIST report] to align it with international human rights standards, reportedly claiming to have not realized its effects [Reuters report] due to the law's length and theological language. Karzai submitted the law to the Ministry of Justice [JURIST report] for review after suspending it and promising revisions. Key Shi’ite cleric Mohammad Asif Mohsseni defended the law [JURIST report], chastising Western critics for interfering with Afghan democracy. Following Mohsseni's endorsement and prior to Karzai's promise to revise the law, Afghan women protesters were attacked [JURIST report] by conservative Muslims while staging demonstrations and had to be rescued by police forces. US President Barack Obama [official profile] called the law "abhorrent," saying that respect for women and their freedom is an important principle [transcript text] that all nations should uphold. Karzai's decision to sign the law [JURIST report] was one of several actions that Karzai has been criticized for since his appointment as Afghanistan's interim president in 2002.

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