RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Nearly a year after Morocco was shocked by the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her alleged rapist, the government has announced plans to change the penal code to outlaw the traditional practice.
Women's rights activists on Tuesday welcomed Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid's announcement, but said it was only a first step in reforming a penal code that doesn't do enough to stop violence against women in this North African kingdom.
A paragraph in Article 475 of the penal code allows those convicted of "corruption" or "kidnapping" of a minor to go free if they marry their victim and the practice was encouraged by judges to spare family shame.
Last March, 16-year-old Amina al-Filali poisoned herself to get out of a seven-month-old abusive marriage to a 23-year-old she said had raped her. Her parents and a judge had pushed the marriage to protect the family honor. The incident sparked calls for the law to be changed.
The traditional practice can be found across the Middle East and in places like India and Afghanistan where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock is a huge stain on the honor of the family or tribe.
While the marriage age is officially 18, judges routinely approve much younger unions in this deeply traditional country of 32 million with high illiteracy and poverty.
"Changing this article is a good thing but it doesn't meet all of our demands," said Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. "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 singled out in particular outmoded parts of the law that distinguish between "rape resulting in deflowering and just plain rape." The new article proposed Monday, for instance, gives a 10-year penalty for consensual sex following the corruption of a minor but doubles the sentence if the sex results in "deflowering."