RABAT – Facing tremendous pressure, Morocco's parliament has repealed a law that drops rape charges if the rapist married his underage victim, sparking acceptance among rights groups who eye more inclusive women rights.
"It's a very important step. But it's not enough," Fatima Maghnaoui, who heads a group supporting women victims of violence, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Thursday, January 23.
"We are campaigning for a complete overhaul of the penal code for women," she added.
The parliament on Wednesday has unanimously amended article 475 of the penal code, which has been proposed by the elected Islamist government over a year ago.
The controversial article allows the rapist of underage victim in the North Africa country to escape prosecution by marrying his victim.
Though the family code, or mudawana, sets 18 as the legal age for marriage for both sexes, it provides for exceptions to be decided by judges on the basis of special legal and social circumstances, including cases of adultery.
Based on Islamic jurisprudence and Moroccan tradition, the rape marriage law has put the country’s Islamist government in hot water in 2012, following demands for amendments from women’s groups, human rights organizations and left-wing politicians.
The uproar dates back to March 2012 when Amina el-Filali, a recently married young Moroccan peasant girl, committed suicide to end her life.
Getting involved in unlawful relationship with Mustapha el-Hallaq, a 23-year-old unemployed laborer, the families of the couple agreed on marriage to save their reputation.
At that time, Moroccan legal authorities asserted that on the basis of the investigation and Amina’s testimony, judges concluded that the sexual relations were consensual and that Amina was a willing partner in the marriage.
After getting married, Amina took her life on March 10, to become a national cause, an icon for women’s groups, human rights organizations and left-wing politicians.
Anti-rape demonstrations have been staged in the largest cities, attended mainly by women.
Avaaz advocacy group has collected petitions signed by million Moroccans and requesting the application of combating violence against women legislation which was promised by the government.
The parliament's decision won applaud by rights group who are anticipating better promotion for gender equality and protecting women's rights.
“It took 16-year-old Amina Filali's suicide and nearly two years for the parliament to close the loophole that allowed rapists to avoid accountability,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty deputy regional director.
“It's time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse,” she added.
Applauding the amendment, several activists are calling for rejuvenating Morocco's rape laws.
“It is true that this is just a detail compared to all of our demands but it had to be done,” said Nezha Aloui, of the Union for Feminist Work.
“I salute the mobilization and maturity parliament showed by voting unanimously,” Aloui added.
Morocco suffers from striking sexual harassment figures; about 9% of the Moroccan women have been physically subjected to sexual violence at least once, according to an official report released last December.
Aiming to curb the violence against women in the North African Kingdom, a proposed bill suggested prison sentences up to 25 year for people convicted of committing violence against women. The bill is still in the drafting state.
Islam takes a firm and decisive stance against adultery by prohibiting it as well as closing all the avenues and means leading to it.
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