After Debate, Moroccan Government Amends Rape Law

7:25 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

By Aida Alami

Two years after the suicide of a 16-year-old Moroccan girl who was forced to marry the man accused of raping her opened a fierce debate in the Islamist-led government, the government has answered calls for change.
On Wednesday, the Moroccan Parliament voted unanimously to amend a law that allows a man convicted of statutory rape to escape punishment if he marries his underage victim. Otherwise, the law, known as Article 475, mandates only a few years of prison and a small fine. With Parliament’s vote, the terms of punishment remain but the exoneration clause has been deleted.
Pressure on the government to amend the law began after Amina Filali, 16, forced by her parents and a judge to marry the man she said had raped her at knife point, swallowed rat poison in March 2012.
While activists applauded the change, many said that it did not go far enough and that all laws governing rape should mandate heavier sentences.
Stephanie Willman Bordat, a founding partner at Mobilizing for Rights Associates, a Morocco-based nongovernmental organization, said other laws were also outdated. Many Moroccan women are reluctant to report rape at all, because sex is illegal outside marriage.
“This changes one paragraph in an article when there are a lot of articles that need to be changed,” she said. “Article 490 still makes it illegal to have sexual relations outside of marriage, which pressures the minor victims of rape and all rape victims, even adults, not to bring charges.”
Ten years ago, the country adopted a new family code that was seen as progressive at the time. It raised the minimum age for marriage to 18 from 15, and it gave women more rights in divorce and child custody cases. But conservative judges and attitudes have made putting these laws into practice challenging, as many families prefer to marry their daughters off rather than let people know that they were raped or that they had lost their virginity. According to workers for nongovernmental organizations, judicial authorizations for marriage of minors have been granted in about 90 percent of requests.
Earlier this week, the Justice Ministry issued a statement supporting the amendment of Article 475, pledging to push for heavier penalties for rape.
Ms. Willman Bordat said the government needed to follow up on its promises to criminalize violence against women and protect pregnant unmarried girls.
“We need to not stigmatize the mother and child who is born outside of wedlock,” she said. “That will have to be addressed also.”

You can read the story on the New York Times' Website

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