Morocco: End the legal exemption for rapists who marry their victims
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On 11 March 2012, 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. Neither Amina nor the rapist wanted to marry but court officials, including the prosecutor, suggested the marriage when the victim and her family reported the rape. Article 475 of the Penal Code of Morocco specifically exempts a minor’s “kidnapper” from punishment if she marries him. Culturally, the stigma of being raped is often too much for both rape victims and their parents, and many reluctantly agree to the marriage. Reports suggest that after their marriage Amina was also beaten by her husband. With only the prospect of further rapes and beatings in her future Amina took her own life. Union de L'Action Feminine, a Moroccan women’s rights group, and other civil society organizations have been campaigning for many years for the repeal of Article 475, but to no avail. The death of Amina has, however, shocked many in the country which could lead to increased support for changing the law.
According to the Preamble of Morocco’s Constitution, Morocco is working to banish and combat all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sex. There is a general provision in Article 6 which encourages the public authorities to create the conditions necessary for equality between female and male citizens and changes already made to Morocco’s family law have been heralded as an important step forward in promoting women’s equality in the family context. However, Amina’s case highlights that women and girls are still vulnerable to societal and legal discrimination and that accessing justice for abuse remains a serious challenge. As in this case, judges can allow marriage of minors under Moroccan law, and completely disregard the rights of the child and her vulnerability to abuse. Requiring a woman or girl to marry her rapist means that his violence is exonerated and her abuse continues. It sends the public signal also that a perpetrator, if caught, can have a way out of punishment. In this case, no doubt content to be let off punishment, but not happy to be married to his victim, the perpetrator continued his violence against Amina until she could bear it no more.
Morocco ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1993. Article 16(b) of CEDAW calls on States parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure, between men and women, “[t]he same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent.” In addition, Article 16(2) states, “[t]he betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect…” In its general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women, the CEDAW Committee, which reviews government compliance with CEDAW, specifically mentions forced marriage and rape stating that, “[t]he effect of such violence on the physical and mental integrity of women is to deny them the equal enjoyment, exercise and knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In its examination of Morocco in 2008, the CEDAW Committee called upon Morocco, “to amend, without delay, the Penal Code to ensure that …criminal proceedings against rapists are not terminated when they marry their victims.”
Under the Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Morocco has also ratified, “no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” The Human Rights Committee, in its general comment No. 28 on equality of rights between men and women, identified women’s right to free and informed consent in marriage as an element of women’s right to equality.
Several countries, such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay, with a similar law to Morocco’s exempting rapists from punishment by marriage have been amending them over the last several years. Ethiopia, for example, repealed its law in 2005 following Equality Now’s campaign on the issue and the advocacy of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. A very similar law in Argentina, Article 132 of the Penal Code, highlighted in Equality Now’s report – Words and Deeds – Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +15 Review Process – is expected to be repealed shortly by the Argentine National Congress. Morocco should do the same, setting an example for other countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, which have similar laws.
Please call on the Moroccan government officials below to repeal Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code as a matter of urgency. Express the critical need, following the death of Amina Filali, to prevent future deaths and violations of girls’ and women’s rights and to ensure that girls and women are protected and have access to justice. Encourage them to comply with Morocco’s international legal obligations under the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as its own Constitution.
Letters should go to:
Ministry of Justice and Liberties
Mr. Mustafa Ramid
Minister of Justice and Liberties
Fax: +212 5-37-26-31-03
Ministry of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development
Ms. Bassima Hakkaoui
Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development
Fax: +212 5-37-67-19-17
UPDATE 20 MARCH 2013: In February 2013, the Moroccan Ministry of Justice and Liberties approved amendments to the Penal Code, which are said to strengthen punishments for sexual violence. Such changes include revisions to Article 475, which had the effect of exempting from punishment a rapist who subsequently married his minor victim. Deletions have also been proposed to the Personal Status Law to remove articles which allowed a judge to endorse early marriage under the legal age. Full discussion of these revisions in parliament has been postponed until the Spring. Although women’s groups in Morocco have welcomed these proposed amendments, they are calling for a full review of the Penal Code to revoke provisions which discriminate against women and to provide full protection for women against violence and discrimination. We will be issuing a full update, including further action you can take to support their work, as the process progresses.
UPDATE 4 DECEMBER 2012: In solidarity with female victims of violence and discrimination, the Spring of Dignity coalition is organizing a human chain that will start at the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice in Rabat and end at the seat of the House of Representatives on 8 December 2012.Moroccan women and men are calling on the government to amend the Penal Code, including article 475 that still sanctions the exoneration of a rapist if he marries his victim. The coalition, which includes more than 40 associations, networks and organizations, is also demanding the criminalization of marital rape, sexual harassment and psychological abuse, the legalization of safe abortion and the revision of discriminatory articles related to prostitution and trafficking under the Penal Code among other measures.
Equality Now joins the coalition and our partners in calling the Government of Morocco to amend the Penal Code to safeguard women’s rights. Please take Action and keep up the pressure on the Government of Morocco to end the legal exemption for rapists who marry their victims and to ensure that the prohibition on child marriage is enforced.
UPDATE 17 MAY 2012: 15-year-old Safae from Tangiers was raped and impregnated in January 2011 when she was 14. Though she and her mother filed a complaint, according to recent reports they were pressured to drop the charges by the prosecutor and the judge. Instead, without her parents being present, the judge allegedly made Safae marry her rapist in order to save her “honor.” By doing so, the law also removed the threat of criminal penalty on Safae’s rapist.
Safae gave birth to a girl in September 2011, but her rapist has disappeared and she and her daughter are not supported by him. Additionally, since the father is not named on the birth certificate, Safae’s rapist remains anonymous with his “honor” intact, while Safae is reported to be in a state of extreme depression, having twice attempted suicide.
As with the previous case of 16-year-old Amina Filali, who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, this highlights the difficulties faced by Moroccan girls in achieving justice in sexual violence cases. Union de L'Action Feminine, a Moroccan women’s rights group, and other civil society organizations continue to call for the repeal of Article 475, described in detail below, as well as for the repeal of laws permitting judges at their discretion to authorize marriage of minors who are younger than the minimum age of marriage of 18 including in cases of sexual violence. La Marche Des Femmes Libres is organizing demonstrations throughout the country to ensure that rapists are not absolved of their crimes. Action is urgently needed to develop child protection mechanisms, including judicial training, so that judges cannot and do not push girls into marrying their rapists.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Continue to call on the Moroccan government officials below to:
- Repeal Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code and ensure that girls and women are protected from violence and have access to justice.
- Ensure that the prohibition on child marriage is enforced and stop judges from coercing girls to marry their abusers particularly in cases of sexual violence.
- Institute child protection measures and judicial training as matters of urgency.
- Comply with Morocco’s international legal obligations under the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as its own Constitution.
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Dear Minister/Speaker of the House,
Following recent reports about 14-year-old Safae from Tangiers, who was allegedly forced by a judge to marry her rapist in order to save her “honor,” I urge you to work for the repeal of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which specifically exempts a rapist from punishment if a girl marries him. In addition, I urge you to ensure that the prohibition on child marriage is enforced and to take measures to stop judges from coercing girls into marriage in cases such as this. I would respectfully encourage your government to do everything it can to ensure that girls and women are protected from violence and discrimination and have access to justice when they face abuse.
Countries with sex discriminatory laws like Article 475, such as Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay, have been amending them over the last several years. A very similar law in Argentina, Article 132 of the Penal Code, was just amended by the Argentine National Congress. If Morocco would do the same, this would also set an example for other countries in the region.
The repeal of Article 475 and ensuring that the prohibition on child marriage is enforced would be in line with the Moroccan Constitution and consistent with Morocco’s international legal obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Please also institute child protection measures and judicial training as matters of urgency to stop judges from marrying young girls to their rapists.
Thank you for your attention.