KABUL -- Conservative religious lawmakers in Afghanistan blocked legislation yesterday aimed at strengthening provisions for women's freedoms, arguing that parts of it violate Islamic principles and encourage disobedience.
The fierce opposition highlights how tenuous women's rights remain a dozen years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime, whose strict interpretation of Islam once kept Afghan women virtual prisoners in their homes.
Khalil Ahmad Shaheedzada, a conservative lawmaker for Herat province, said the legislation was withdrawn shortly after being introduced in parliament because of an uproar by religious parties who said parts of the law are un-Islamic.
The Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women has been in effect since 2009, but only by presidential decree. It is being brought before parliament now because lawmaker Fawzia Kofi, a women's rights activist, wants to cement it with a parliamentary vote to prevent its reversal by any future president who might be tempted to repeal it to satisfy hard-line religious parties.
The law criminalizes, among other things, child marriage and forced marriage, and bans "baad," the traditional practice of exchanging girls and women to settle disputes. It makes domestic violence a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison and specifies that rape victims should not face criminal charges for fornication or adultery.
There has been spotty enforcement of the law as it stands. A United Nations analysis in late 2011 found only a small percentage of reported crimes against women were pursued by the Afghan government.
The child marriage ban and the idea of protecting female rape victims from prosecution were particularly heated subjects in yesterday's parliamentary debate, said Nasirullah Sadiqizada Neli, a conservative lawmaker from Daykundi province.
Neli suggested that removing the custom -- common in Afghanistan -- of prosecuting raped women for adultery would lead to social chaos, with women freely engaging in extramarital sex, knowing they could claim rape if caught.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, women's freedoms have improved vastly, but Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative culture, especially in rural areas.