The laws surrounding marriage in many countries have come under international scrutiny because they contradict international standards of human rights; institutionalize violence against women, child marriage and forced marriage; require the permission of a husband for his wife to work in a paid job, sign legal documents, file criminal charges against someone, sue in civil court etc.; sanction the use by husbands of violence to “discipline” their wives; and discriminate against women in divorce.
Such things were legal even in many Western countries until recently: for instance, in France, married women obtained the right to work without their husband’s permission in 1965,and in West Germany women obtained this right in 1977 (by comparison women in East Germany had many more rights). In Spain, during Franco’s era, a married woman needed her husband’s consent, referred to as the permiso marital, for almost all economic activities, including employment, ownership of property, and even traveling away from home; the permiso marital was abolished in 1975.
An absolute submission of a wife to her husband is accepted as natural in many parts of the world, for instance surveys by UNICEF have shown that the percentage of women aged 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is as high as 90% in Afghanistan and Jordan, 87% in Mali, 86% in Guinea and Timor-Leste, 81% in Laos, 80% in Central African Republic. Detailed results from Afghanistan show that 78.4% of women agree with a beating if the wife “goes out without telling him [the husband]” and 76.2% agree “if she argues with him”.
Throughout history, and still today in many countries, laws have provided for mitigating circumstances, partial or complete defenses, for men who killed their wives due to adultery, with such acts often being seen as crimes of passion and being covered by legal defenses such as provocation or defense of family honor.
Right and ability to divorce
While international law and conventions recognize the need for consent for entering a marriage – namely that people cannot be forced to get married against their will – the right to obtain a divorce is not recognized; therefore holding a person in a marriage against their will (if such person has consented to entering in it) is not considered a violation of human rights, with the issue of divorce being left at the appreciation of individual states. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that under the European Convention on Human Rights there is neither a right to apply to divorce, nor a right to obtain the divorce if applied for it; in 2017, in Babiarz v. Poland, the Court ruled that Poland was entitled to deny a divorce because the grounds for divorce were not met, even if the marriage in question was acknowledged both by Polish courts and by the ECHR as being a legal fiction involving a long term separation where the husband lived with another woman with whom he had an 11-years-old child.
In the EU, the last country to allow divorce was Malta, in 2011. Around the world, the only countries to forbid divorce are Philippines and Vatican City, although in practice in many countries which use a fault based divorce system obtaining a divorce is very difficult. The ability to divorce, in law and practice, has been and continues to be a controversial issue in many countries, and public discourse involves different ideologies such as feminism, social conservatism, religious interpretations.
In recent years, the customs of dowry and bride price have received international criticism for inciting conflicts between families and clans; contributing to violence against women; promoting materialism; increasing property crimes (where men steal goods such as cattle in order to be able to pay the bride price); and making it difficult for poor people to marry. African women’s rights campaigners advocate the abolishing of bride price, which they argue is based on the idea that women are a form of property which can be bought.Bride price has also been criticized for contributing to child trafficking as impoverished parents sell their young daughters to rich older men. A senior Papua New Guinea police officer has called for the abolishing of bride price arguing that it is one of the main reasons for the mistreatment of women in that country.The opposite practice of dowry has been linked to a high level of violence (see dowry deaths) and to crimes such as extortion.