Iraq: Stop letting rapists go free - Repeal Article 398! - Equality Now

Iraq: Stop letting rapists go free - Repeal Article 398!

Join Iraqi activists in calling for a vote to repeal Article 398 to stop women being forced to marry their rapists.

“I could not accept the idea of having married my rapist.” With these words, Sabiha (not her real name), began her story to Equality Now’s partner in Iraq, the Baghdad Women Association.  

One night, while Sabiha, a 32-year-old woman, was working late at her medical laboratory job, the security guard - a relative of hers - raped her. As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, her family and community pressured her into marrying her rapist to remove the stigma they believe her rape placed on her family’s “honor.” Many communities around the world, including Sabiha’s, subscribe to the sex discriminatory belief that women and girls are vessels of their family’s “honor.” So rather than a criminal attack on Sabiha, the rape was seen as an attack on the family’s reputation, which they felt could only be lessened by marrying her off. Through Article 398 of Iraq’s Penal Code No. 111 of 1969, which effectively encourages this practice, Sabiha, a once energetic and highly motivated woman, was re-victimized while her rapist escaped all punishment by marrying her.      

For nine months, she endured continued rapes, trauma, isolation and anxiety:  “I was under constant stress, unhappy, feeling disgusted. I took every opportunity to initiate fights with him until I forced him to leave me.” But even after an eventual divorce, Sabiha’s life did not get any better. Her older sisters and brothers didn’t accept her decision to divorce and refuse to give her any physical or mental support. Her family prevented her from continuing with her work or from leaving her home unless escorted by her mother. And, recently, less than a year ago, Sabiha, who is now 35 years old was pressured to marry a 70-year-old man with three children, some of them her same age and who treat her badly.  

Marry-your-rapist exemption, polygamy, child marriage. There is a disturbing pattern in Iraq in the last few months and years, with Parliamentarians proposing and backing laws that encourage violence and discrimination against women and girls. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed similar “marry your rapist” provisions in 2017 and Bahrain and several other countries in the region are in the process of revoking such articles.

Learn more about “marry your rapist” provisions across the MENA region.