LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Moroccan parliament’s vote to change a law so that rapists will no longer be able to avoid prosecution by marrying their underage victims is ‘an important step in the right direction,’ rights group Amnesty International said.
The parliament’s unanimous vote on Wednesday came almost two years after 16-year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry the man who had raped her.
The case received extensive media coverage and sparked protests in the capital Rabat and other cities at which women called for a change in the law that would protect the rights of women and enable offenders to be punished.
“(The) vote is a welcome step but Morocco still needs a comprehensive strategy to protect women and girls from violence, with input from women’s rights groups who have been excluded from the process so far," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In parts of Morocco women or girls who lose their virginity, even through rape, are stigmatized and considered unfit for marriage.
In some cases their family or a judge may even force victims to marry the rapist as a way of restoring the family’s honour.
Rape victims are also discouraged from filing complaints for fear of prosecution under articles which criminalize sexual relations outside marriage.
“Women and girls have intrinsic human rights and their value should not be defined by their virginity, marital status or family situation," Sahraoui said. “We hope (the) vote signals a complete shift in the way rape survivors are treated and that more measures will follow."