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Thailand outlaws marital rape

Thais could face up to 20 years in jail for raping their spouses under a new law passed by parliament, government officials and women's rights activists said Thursday.

The National Legislative Assembly, appointed by a junta which seized power in a coup last year, on Wednesday amended current criminal laws and overwhelmingly passed the nation's first marital rape bill.

"The previous law was discriminatory by not giving the same kind of protection for women and men," said Kingkaew Inwang, deputy director of the Women's Affairs and Family Development Office.

"Now, everybody is being treated equally under the new law," she said.

The previous law defined a rapist as a person who rapes a woman who is not his wife, meaning a man could assault his wife with impunity.

Now, he would face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,156) for rape or other sexual assault — the same penalty that exists for non marital rape.

The bill also gives a broader definition of rape to cover female offenders and homosexual rapists.

Woman's rights group hailed the decision.

"After a long history of women's activism, Thailand is now moving toward a new era for human rights protection," said Supensri Pungkhoksoong, head of the Women's Rights Protection Group.

"We have heard of a large number of cases where a wife was sexually abused by her husband," Supensri said, adding she applauded the mostly male parliament for giving women equal protection under the law.

She told AFP that Thailand now joined more than 20 countries around the world with similar laws.

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