By MELISSA WELLHAM
In Morocco, convicted rapists who ‘rectify’ their crime by agreeing to marry their female victims can go free and avoid facing any penalty.
Even more shocking is the fact that this law extends to rapists whose victims who are under the age of 18.
In Morocco it is considered inappropriate for women to lose their virginity before marriage – even in cases of rape. So rather than attempting to change a culture that condones rape, the Moroccan Government has decreed that the best way to avoid these sorts of improper scandals is to offer the rapists their underage victims’… as their brides.
This ensures the girl’s ‘decency’ is not called into question, and the rapist avoids punishment.
Although all parties must consent to the marriage for this legal loophole to take effect, the pressure put on young girls and their families to avoid ‘disgrace’, is immense.
A paragraph in Article 475 of the penal code allows those convicted of “corruption” or “kidnapping” of a minor to go free if they marry their victim and the practice was encouraged by judges to spare family shame.
Last March, 16-year-old Amina al-Filali poisoned herself to get out of a seven-month-old abusive marriage to a 23-year-old she said had raped her. Her parents and a judge had pushed the marriage to protect the family’s honor. The incident sparked calls for the law to be changed.
While the marriage age is officially 18, judges routinely approve much younger unions in this deeply traditional country of 32 million with high illiteracy and poverty.
This preposterous law was brought to the attention of the rest of the world following the suicide of 16-year-old Amina Filali who resorted to swallowing rat poison in order to escape her enforced marriage to her rapist.
Her death prompted Moroccan women to rally outside the country’s parliament in protest. Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, said, “What we have witnessed is scandalous. We have had enough. We must change this law, we must change the penal code.”
Almost one year later, it finally looks like the Morrocan Government are listening to its female citizens and the law is set to change.
Last week, Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid indicated that the Moroccan Government will be repealing the law that allows for this abhorrent practice. It’s important to remember, however, that this news is only a first step to stopping violence against women in North Africa.
“Changing this article is a good thing but it doesn’t meet all of our demands,” the organisation’s president, Khadija Ryadi, told the Associated Press.
“The penal code has to be totally reformed because it contains many provisions that discriminate against women and doesn’t protect women against violence,” she added.
Ms Ryadi noted that the new article proposed by the justice ministry distinguished between “rape resulting in ‘deflowering’ and just plain rape”.
Fouzia Assouli, head of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, said: “The law doesn’t recognise certain forms of violence against women, such as conjugal rape, while it still penalises other normal behaviour like sex outside of marriage between adults.”
Aside from a pervasive culture that condones violence against women in Morocco – and a lack of legal and societal support for women who have been sexually assaulted – traditional practices that allow rapists to go free if they marry their victims can also be seen in India and Afghanistan, and across the Middle East. Such practices are motivated by the same concerns that it is shameful for a woman to lose her virginity out of wedlock.
Both houses of parliament must approve any changes to the penal code in Morocco, which means the changes could still fall over in the legislative process.
The sole female minister in Cabinet, Social Development Minister Bassima Hakkaoui has said she will try to get the law passed in September.
Women in Morocco will be counting the days and the rest of the world will be watching with interest.