Morocco set to repeal controversial rape section in penal code

A law allowing rapists who marry their victims to go free could be abrogated in a week, lawmakers say

Amina Filali's suicide after being forced to marry her rapist sparked a public outcry in 2012.

Morocco aims to toss part of its penal code allowing rapists who marry their victims to go free, lawmakers told Al Jazeera Wednesday.

Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code is a controversial holdover from the North African kingdom’s colonial era that has in recent years resulted in some rape victims committing suicide.

The Commission of Justice, Legislation and Human Rights, part of the Moroccan parliament’s lower house met Wednesday and voted unanimously to repeal the provision of Article 475 that allows a man who rapes a minor to go free if the victim marries the assailant.

“It won’t take much time” before the law's cancellation, said Nouzha Skalli, one of the commission members who voted to change the law Wednesday. Parliament’s upper house voted on it recently, and it goes before the lower house for a final vote, where it is not expected to face any opposition, according to Skalli, who was the Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development from 2007 to 2012. 

The law was based on a French archetype, overturned in 1994. Morocco was protectorate of France until the North African kingdom achieved independence in 1956.

“It took lots of time and unfortunately lots of drama for lawmakers to review this law seriously,” said Khadija Riyadi, president of advocacy group, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH).

Riyadi told Al Jazeera that Moroccan civil society has aimed to cancel the controversial law for decades. It was only the death of Amina Filali, a 16-year-old who killed herself by drinking rat poison, that forced lawmakers to address the issue, after a public outcry drove Moroccans into the streets.

Skalli said that the law Morocco aims to address “is the article that allowed the rapist of Amina Filali to escape justice.”

Riyadi also said opposition parties, hoping to use repeal efforts to smear the majority Islamist Justice and Development Party, inspired enough momentum to edit the law. 

“There were many parties advocating for this who didn’t respond to calls from human rights groups in the past. And they used this as a political platform, profiting from it opportunistically,” she said. “The essential thing is that (the politicking) yielded results.”

In November, Al Jazeera investigated the details of another victim, Amina Tamiri, who killed herself after learning she would be forced to marry her rapist.

At the time, Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Al Jazeera that efforts to repeal Article 475 were “still just a law project that’s being considered by parliament, but has not been rectified.” That was after the death of Amina Filali sparked an international outpouring of rage with hashtag #RIPAmina.

When asked why the repeal project had taken decades amid public demands, Ramid and several other justice ministry representatives declined to comment.

Skalli said that Moroccan lawmakers have undertaken the work of overhauling a number of laws in the Moroccan penal code that break with the tenets of the constitution, written in 2011 in response to a popular demand for reform.

Critics from Morocco's popular movement, now dubbed the February 20th movement for the date it was launched, have called the new constitution a façade, saying that the sweeping corruption, police brutality and intimidation of dissidents that existed before the protests persists.

Still, Skalli has confidence in the new document.

“We have a proud new constitution, and we need it realized,” she said.

“People ask me, 'How do you see women’s rights under an Islamist government?'” she added, “We have three things that allow us to be optimistic: the constitution that’s very advanced on women’s rights. We have a dynamic and combative civil society. And thirdly, we have the engagement of his Majesty the King in women’s rights.”

A United Nations investigation revealed in 2011, before King Mohammed VI’s touted new constitution, that 60 percent of Moroccan women had experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. A quarter of them reported having been victims of sexual violence. 

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