Afghans Grapple with New Law on Domestic Violence

You may have heard about a new law that has been proposed in Afghanistan, because it has women’s rights advocates up in arms around the world.

The draft legislation makes it illegal for family members/relatives to testify against someone accused of a crime. Since most instances of domestic violence, basically by definition, happen within the home, it makes it impossible for the most likely witnesses to abuse to speak out about it in court.

Afghan and international activists protested. Afghan women rallied in the streets, which is really cool, and I think local Afghan activism against this law does not get enough attention in international media.

The good news right now is that President Hamid Karzai has ordered revisions to the legislation. The less good news is that he hasn’t given specific details of what reforms he expects or will find acceptable, and the parliament has already quashed one effort to make the bill less extreme. So I’ll be following this and post updates on what actually comes of it.

Many countries, including the U.S., have legal provisions for something called spousal privilege, which in most cases allows spouses to decline to testify against each other in a court case. The key difference here is that they are “allowed to decline,” not prohibited from testifying even when they might want to, and furthermore that it generally only applies to spouses, not to entire families. Since the current Afghan bill under debate does not give a clear, specific definition of family, and given that at least in smaller Afghan villages most of the inhabitants might be considered somehow related, either through blood or marriage, the impact of this law on the possibilities for successfully charging or prosecuting someone for domestic abuse really cannot be overstated.

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