How NGOs helped change Moroccan law on rapists marrying their victims
A law that allowed rapists to dodge jail by marrying their victims after a campaign by NGOs, including my organisation, the Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale (AMPF).
Previously, the law stated that anyone who "abducted or deceives a minor" could face a prison sentence under article 475, but a second clause of the article specified 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 meant that prosecutors were not allowed to pursue rape charges independently.
The spirit of the stated that men and women should be treated equally, which was at odds with article 475. We decided to set up an advocacy campaign to reform the law, and to challenge the right of judges to allow child marriage "for cultural and social reasons".
In parts of , particularly in rural areas, a girl or unmarried woman who is not a virgin, even if she lost her virginity through rape, is seen as bringing dishonour to her family. Marrying the rapist is thought to alleviate this stigma.
Another horrific consequence of this law was that if a man wanted to wed a woman who was unwilling to be his bride, by raping her he could, in effect, force her into marriage.
It took the tragic case of , 16, who was forced into marriage after she was raped, and who killed herself seven months into wedlock, to be the catalyst for action. Her plight caused such outrage across the country it .
Last August, several women's rights groups joined forces to tackle child marriage. We organised a so-called peace and white march – "peace" because our protest was non-violent; "white" to represent the colour of doctors' coats. Our aim was to show how rape and forced and child marriage had a negative impact on women's health.
A pair of doctors who work in our clinics joined us on the rally. We waved placards, but fell silent as we marched on the parliament building in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. Many women suffer in silence and we wanted our demonstration to emphasise that.
The peace and white march was followed with a pink march – to symbolise women's rights. Each demonstration increased public interest.
Victory came last month, in January, when we discovered that the law had been changed, though the clause relating to child marriage has been postponed for further consultation.
We are working on a declaration to express our thanks to the government and to request further discussion. Much needs to be done to bolster gender equality, outlaw child marriage and change the law on abortion.
Abortion is prohibited in Morocco, except to preserve a pregnant woman's physical and mental health, or to save her life. The law punishes severely both the person who helps the woman to abort and the woman herself. In cases of rape and incest, for example, abortions are not allowed.
Many Moroccans are forced to make desperate choices, which can lead to , abandonment, and even infanticide.
We have the support of two political parties and plan to organise a national debate to advocate for legal changes, so no woman has to undergo an unsafe abortion.
We are pushing the government to adopt the , which we believe would address the social aspects of a woman's reality.
The time is right for such reforms. The amendment to the rape law is not just a victory for us in Morocco but for women throughout the region. A legacy of the Arab spring and globalisation is that we are sharing experiences and learning how to make our voices heard at the highest level. This success will encourage women in other Arab countries to fight for change.
There is still room for improvement. One in four women in Morocco is a victim of violence. Many articles in the penal code need to be reformed because they contain provisions that allow women to be discriminated against and fail to protect them from violence.
The ministry of women, family and solidarity is working on a law that penalises harassment against women. It is a good initiative that needs more involvement from us.
I do not know how soon we will see more rape convictions. But one thing I can say for sure is that we have sent a strong message, one that says women have to be at the centre of the discussions about laws that affect them.
Fadoua Bakhadda, is executive director of , a member association of the