Law will let Afghan husbands starve wives who withhold sex

An Afghan law which legalised rape has been sent back to parliament with a clause letting husbands starve their wives if they refuse to have sex.

President Hamid Karzai ordered a review of the legislation after The Independent revealed that it negated the need for consent within marriage.

President Barack Obama described it as "abhorrent", Gordon Brown said Britain would "not tolerate" it, and other Nato countries threatened to withdraw their troops unless the legislation was drastically re-written.

The amendments were passed to the cabinet this week and signed by Mr Karzai on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said last night.

The women's rights activist Wazhma Frough, who was involved in the review, said that conservative religious leaders had pressured the Justice Ministry to keep many of the most controversial clauses.

"There have been a few little changes, but they are not enough," she said. "For example, if the wife doesn't accept her husband's sexual requirements then he can deny her food."

According to civil society groups, the law, which regulates the personal affairs of Afghanistan's minority Shia community, still includes clauses which allow rapists to marry their victims as a way of absolving their crime and it tacitly approves child marriage. The law sparked riots in Kabul. Hundreds of Shia women took to the streets in protest. They were attacked by mobs of angry men who launched counter demonstrations outside the capital's largest Shia madrassa.

It is due to be ratified by parliament, which first passed the legislation in March with hardly any debate.

"Violence against women is already endemic," said Razia Jan, who is building a women's community centre in Afghanistan's Shia heartland, Bamiyan. "Men pay thousands of dollars for young girls and they are treated like slaves. Women here are already so vulnerable."

Critics claim that Mr Karzai signed the law to appease Shia leaders, ahead of the presidential polls on 20 August.