Countries Where Sex Outside Marriage is a Crime


The law of a country does not exist in vacuum – it is a codification of the customs, traditions and mores followed in that society and culture. This is the prime reason why because certain laws, as those protecting human life and national security are universal, those governing personal relationships vary widely from one country to another. Thus while in liberal societies sex between two consenting adults is nobody else’s business, in certain countries it can be cause of punitive legal action.

Saudi Arabia

Islamic law prescribes punishments for both Muslim and non-Muslim men and women for the act of Zina as interpreted from the Qur'an and the Hadith. all four schools of Sunni practice, and the two schools of Shi'a practice, the term zina signifies voluntary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to one another, regardless of whether one or both of them are married to other persons or not. Though in principle it is an extremely difficult offence to prove, requiring four respectable witnesses to the actual act of penetration, across countries following Islamic law, punishments for Zina are doled out by courts, often in a harsher form for women. In Saudi Arabia for instance Flogging is a common punishment for the crime of premarital sex.


Equally draconian laws exist in Iran which also follows Islamic law or Sharia. The Iranian Penal Code “stipulates that the penalty for fornication is flogging, that is 100 strokes of the lash, for unmarried male and female offenders” Article 83 of the Iranian Penal Code states that Adultery in the following cases shall be punishable by stoning:

(1) Adultery by a married man who is wedded to a permanent wife with whom he has had intercourse and may have intercourse when he so desires

(2) Adultery of a married woman with an adult man provided the woman is permanently married and has had intercourse with her husband and is able to do so again. Besides these, adultery of a married woman with a minor is punishable by flogging

In 2004 a woman in Iran was stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage. in 2010 an international campaign rose up in defense of an Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who had been sentenced to death by stoning on adultery charges. Between 2006 and 2008 at least six stonings took place, all of them in secret, according to Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran1. Currently at least 10 people are in Iranian jails under stoning sentences, seven women and three men.


Though the Taliban were thrown out of political control of Afghanistan by NATO forces in 2001, the brutal version of the Islamic law that they imposed on the country in the 1990s still continues in many parts. In August 2010, a young couple were stoned to death by hundreds of villagers in Kunduz Province of northern Afghanistan for trying to elope2.


In Pakistan, adultery is a crime under the Hudood Ordinance. The Ordinance sets a maximum penalty of death, although only imprisonment and corporal punishment have ever actually been imposed. Even though Women's Protection Bill was passed in the National Assembly in 2006 allowing rape to be prosecutable under civil law, thousands of women continue to languish in jails across Pakistan on charges of adultery. Premarital sex is still a crime and can be punished by up to 5 years in prison.


In Africa, countries with Muslim majority population which follow Islamic law also consider sex outside marriage a criminal offence and those convicted by Sharia courts face brutal punishments. In 2008, a young woman was killed after being pelted by stones in the wake of a conviction by Sharia court for adultery. Human rights group Amnesty International however claimed that the victim was only 13-year-old girl who had been raped3.


This Muslim majority country is another nation where harsh laws exist to punish sex outside marriage. As late as May 2012, a young mother found guilty of adultery in Sudan was sentenced to death by stoning4. Aged between eighteen to twenty years, Intisar Sharif Abdallah was tried without access to a lawyer and was detained with her four-month-old baby. Abdallah admitted to the charges only after her brother reportedly beat her. The conviction was based solely rests on this testimony. The man held with her reportedly denied the charges and was released.


The northern parts of Nigeria have predominantly Muslim population and in keeping with Sharia laws, these regions have had many instances where men and women were convicted of adultery and meted out punishments by law. In 2002, An Islamic appeal court upheld a sentence of death by stoning for adultery against a Nigerian woman5. Thirty year old, Amina Lawal was found guilty by a court in Katsina state in March after bearing a child outside marriage. However many such convictions passed by Sharia court are appealed in higher civil courts in Abuja and repealed too.


It is not only Islamic law under which sex outside marriage is a crime. Countries where most people are conservative Christians and the law is based on dominant religious practices, also consider some forms of sex outside marriage as illegal. In the Philippines for instance , adultery  - defined as consensual sexual intercourse between a married woman and a man who is not her husband as well as related act of concubinage  - a man cohabiting with a woman who is not his wife - are considered crimes under the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.


Having sex outside marriage can land partners in jail even in an avowedly secular country like India. In Indian law, adultery is defined as sex between a man and a woman without the consent of the woman's husband. The man is prosecutable and can be sentenced for up to five years (even if he himself was unmarried) whereas the married woman cannot be jailed. This law based on Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code has been roundly criticized from all sections of society. While the judiciary has criticized it6 as being biased against men since it punishes a man alone for adultery, feminists have pointed out that the provision reduces a married woman to a property of the husband. Again, in India, eextramarital sex without the consent of one's partner can be a valid ground for monetary penalty on government employees, as ruled by the Central Administrative Tribunal. Though this does not fall in the category of a criminal offense, it does carry with it the force of an official punitive action.


  1. Refugee Review Tribunal AUSTRALIA
  2. The New York Times - Crime (Sex) and Punishment (Stoning)
  3. BBC News - Stoning victim 'begged for mercy'
  4. The Guardian - Sudanese woman sentenced to stoning death over adultery claims
  5. BBC News - Nigeria's stoning appeal fails
  6. The Times of India - Adultery law biased against men, says Supreme Court