After heavy criticism from Western aid agencies and human-rights watchers, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai agreed over the weekend to review a new law he had supported last week that legalizes forced sex within marriage and places Taliban-era restrictions on women in the country's Shiite minority.

The news cheered the U.S. State Department, which had spoken out against the law. "Women have had an unfortunate and a very sad history in Afghanistan," department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "This type of a law shouldn't have been enacted without regard to changing some of these provisions that send a very negative signal to the international community about where Afghanistan is going."

According to The Times (U.K.), which received a leaked copy of the law last Friday, the law requires women to grant sex to their husbands every fourth night unless they are ill, restricts a woman to the home unless her husband allows her to leave, legalizes child marriage by setting the marriageable age at first menstruation, and grants child custody rights to fathers and grandfathers before mothers.

Jon Boone, a freelance journalist based in Afghanistan, explained the law's impact to The Guardian.

"It's a family law which only affects the Shiite community in Afghanistan, which is about 10 percent of the population," Boone said. "The U.N. calls it the legalization of rape of a wife by her husband, so within a marriage a wife is not able to refuse her husband sex."

The law was passed quickly, Boone said, because leaders of the Hazara, a predominantly Shiite community in the country, compose a key swing vote in the upcoming Afghan election August 20 and have been pushing for its passage.

Afghanistan is where, in October 2008, the Taliban killed a Christian aid worker with SERVE Afghanistan in a daylight drive-by shooting. Observers said 34-year-old Gayle Williams may have been a target simply for being a Western woman. Her death, along with those of two South Korean missionaries in the 43-day hostage crisis of July 2007, have led many Christian aid groups to reconsider their presence in the Muslim-majority country where conversion is punishable by death under Shari'ah law.