A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country plagued by honour killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.
The small but significant change to Afghanistan’s criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law — passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai — will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.
“It is a travesty this is happening,” said Manizha Naderi, director of the charity and campaign group Women for Afghan Women. “It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women… The most vulnerable people won’t get justice now.” Under the new law, prosecutors could never come to court with cases like that of Sahar Gul, a child bride whose in-laws chained her in a basement and starved, burned and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. Women like 31-year-old Sitara, whose nose and lips were sliced off by her husband at the end of last year, could never take the stand against their attackers.
“Honour” killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of a woman’s behaviour would be almost impossible to punish. Forced marriage and the sale or trading of daughters to end feuds or settle debt would also be largely beyond the control of the law in a country where prosecution of abuse is already rare.
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