Morocco plan to change rape marriage law

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The death of 16-year-old Amina Filali shocked many people in Morocco and sparked protests

Women's rights activists in Morocco have welcomed plans to change an article of the penal code that allows rapists of underage girls to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims.

On Monday, the justice ministry said it backed a proposal to amend Article 475 and would consider tougher sentences.

Any changes to the penal code must be approved by both houses of parliament.

The move came 10 months after 16-year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist.

She accused Moustapha Fellak, who is about 25, of physical abuse after they married, which he denies. After seven months of marriage, Ms Filali swallowed rat poison.

The case shocked many people in Morocco, received extensive media coverage and sparked protests in the capital Rabat and other cities.

'Rarely used'

Morocco's penal code criminalises rape and sexual acts with a minor "without violence".

Article 475 provides for a prison term of one to five years for anyone who "abducts or deceives" a minor "without violence, threat or fraud, or attempts to do so".

However, the second clause of the article specifies that when the victim marries the perpetrator, "he can no longer be prosecuted except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed". This effectively prevents prosecutors from independently pursuing rape charges.

In conservative rural parts of Morocco, an unmarried girl or woman who has lost her virginity - even through rape - is considered to have dishonoured her family and no longer suitable for marriage. Some families believe that marrying the rapist addresses these problems.

At the time of Ms Filali's death, the justice ministry said her relations with Fellak had been consensual, that her father had petitioned a judge to allow her to marry him, and that both parties had agreed to wed. The prosecutor then ended the rape investigation, it added.

Ms Filali's father told a local news website that his daughter was advised by the prosecutor to marry, while her mother told the Associated Press: "I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried."

In December, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane appeared to play down the importance of amending Article 475, arguing in parliament that the marriage provision was rarely used.

But on Monday, the justice ministry said it supported a proposal to change the penal code, and suggested sentences of up to 30 years in prison for rapists of minors.

'Good thing'

The step was welcomed by the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

"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."

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