The criminalization of adultery: a violation of women’s human rights

The offence of adultery—though it may constitute a matrimonial offence—should not be regarded as a criminal offence punishable by fines, imprisonment or death.
Treating adultery as a criminal offence is a violation of women’s rights to privacy, infringing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is also a violation of CEDAW’s prohibition of discrimination in the family.

Criminal law definitions of adultery seem gender-neutral, and prohibit adultery by both men and women. However, in practice, the criminalization of adultery is overwhelmingly directed against women and girls.

In our 2012 position paper, we look at the concept of adultery, and how its classification as criminal provides impunity for violence against women. The paper also highlights good practices and examples of countries that have decriminalized adultery, and have remedied discrimination against women and violation of women’s rights.

Download the position paper on the criminalization of adultery

Campaign calling on Governments to repeal laws criminalizing adultery

In 2017, the Working Group addressed letters to 33 Governments expressing concerns relating to the criminalization of adultery. Find links to the letters and responses from states below.

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Brunei Darussalam
  3. Burundi
  4. Democratic republic of the Congo
  5. Egypt
  6. India
  7. Iran
  8. Iraq
  9. Jordan - Government reply
  10. Kuwait - Government reply 1 | 2
  11. Lebanon
  12. Libya
  13. Malaysia
  14. Maldives
  15. Mali
  16. Mauritania
  17. Morocco
  18. Nigeria
  19. Oman - Government reply
  20. Pakistan
  21. Papua New Guinea
  22. Philippines - Government reply 1 | 2
  23. Qatar - Government reply
  24. Republic of Congo
  25. Saudi Arabia
  26. Somalia
  27. Sudan
  28. Syria
  29. Tunisia
  30. United Arab Emirates
  31. United States of America - Government reply
  32. Venezuela - Government reply
  33. Yemen