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Working Group on discrimination against women and girls
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
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.