Afghanistan's family law and its effect on Shia women

Report
from UN Radio
Published on 31 Aug 2009 View Original
Listen to the Interview

INTRO: The constitution of Afghanistan allows for Shias, who are thought to make up about 10 percent of the population, to have a separate family law based on traditional Shia values. But a new family law recently passed in the country restricts Shia women's rights.

Gerry Adams spoke to Rupert Colville, Spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, about the law, its provisions and how women are affected:

Colville: The law is known as the Shia Personal Status Law and it's actually directed at one ethnic group in Afghanistan. That's the Shia minority. An early version of the law became public in the spring and was widely criticized both locally and internationally. In fact the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, made a clear and strong statement about it outlining the main problems.

Then what happened was it was sort of re-issued, gazetted in fact. It actually became law in late July just before the election. It took a while before the news came out that it had actually become law and even longer before a clear text emerged. It became clear some changes had been made. There were some improvements or partial improvements but also still many problems with this law.

Narrator: WHAT IS THE MAIN PROBLEM PEOPLE HAVE WITH THIS LAW?

Colville: There are a number of very serious deficiencies which would appear to them some of them run contrary to the Afghan constitution. For example, it implies that under-aged girls can be married against their will; it makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands even though husbands can inherit them from their wives; in the event of a divorce, only men get the guardianship rights of the children; and a female virgin, whatever age she may be - even if she's 43 - is treated as a legal minor and requires the consent of her guardian to get married. These are things that are quite clearly unacceptable in terms of equal rights for women internationally and run counter to all sorts of laws and conventions and treaties on the issue of women's rights.

Narrator: HOW ARE WOMEN FEELING ABOUT THIS?

Colville: Well that's very hard to tell. There are different sorts of women in Afghanistan. For women in the villages, they probably don't know about it. They wouldn't necessarily disagree with it because it is the actual situation. Of course for the more educated women, this is terrible.

Narrator: SO BEYOND PROTESTING THE LAW, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THE OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER OR ANYONE ELSE CAN DO?

Colville: We have staff in Afghanistan. The UN has a big presence there. Certainly this will be raised. There will be close analysis. Of course, the laws are in the Afghan languages. They have to be analyzed very carefully. You have to make sure your translations are absolutely correct, that the Pashto nuances are accurately reflected in the translation that foreign lawyers are then looking at. But certainly I don't think it's going to stop here. People will continue to discuss this with the Afghan Government and hopefully not too far down the line, we will get the most problematic elements amended.

Producer: Gerry Adams
Duration: 2:37