Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Sunday, 16 August 2009 16:28 UK

Row over Afghan wife-starving law

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News

Female supporter of Hamid Karzai shows his picture at an election gathering in Kandahar on 16 August 2009
Critics accuse President Hamid Karzai of betraying Afghan women

An Afghan bill allowing a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex has been published in the official gazette and become law.

The original bill caused outrage earlier this year, forcing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to withdraw it.

But critics say the amended version of the law remains highly repressive.

They accuse Mr Karzai of selling out Afghan women for the sake of conservative Shia support at next week's presidential election.

The law governs family life for Afghanistan's Shia minority.

Sexual demands

The original version obliged Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days at a minimum, and it effectively condoned rape by removing the need for consent to sex within marriage.

Afghan women march against a new marriage law in Kabul, April 2009
The original bill caused outrage within Afghanistan and around the world

Western leaders and Afghan women's groups were united in condemning an apparent reversal of key freedoms won by women after the fall of the Taliban.

Now an amended version of the same bill has passed quietly into law with the apparent approval of President Karzai.

Just ahead of this Thursday's Afghan presidential election, human rights groups suggest the timing is no accident.

"There was a review process - Karzai came under huge pressure from all over the world to amend this law, but many of the most oppressive laws remain," Rachel Reid, the Human Rights Watch representative in Kabul, told the BBC.

"What matters more to Karzai is the support of fundamentalists and hardliners here in Afghanistan whose support he thinks he needs in the elections."

Women's groups say its new wording still violates the principle of equality that is enshrined in their constitution.

It allows a man to withhold food from his wife if she refuses his sexual demands; a woman must get her husband's permission to work; and fathers and grandfathers are given exclusive custody of children.

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