Should marriage be a way out for rapists?
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“He who, without violence, threat or fraud, abducts or deceives a minor under 18 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment for 1 to 5 years and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams.
If the nubile who was removed or deceived marries her abductor, he can no longer be prosecuted except by the persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage, and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed.”
Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code.
The Second paragraph of the above provision allows a rapist to marry his victim if she is a minor as a way of avoiding prosecution. There is a general outcry for the repeal of this provision. According to women’s rights organizations in Morocco, this provision has been applied in cases of rape in order to preserve the so-called “honour” of the victim and her family. I personally do not see anything right about this provision and would love to talk about its demerits.
Firstly, Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code promotes child marriage. The outcry against child marriage can be heard all over the world and legislation and policy making has been one of the most effective tools used in fighting this practice. Most countries have passed laws prohibiting the marriage of a child under the age of 18. Proper sensitization and implementation of these laws go a long way in reducing the rate of child marriages in some parts of the world. Out of 54 African countries, 33 have set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both girls and boys, while a further four have set it above the age of 18 for both (these are Algeria, Lesotho, Libya and Rwanda). This sets a strong legal framework to help protect children from child marriage and keep children, particularly girls, in school. In the remaining African countries, the minimum age is either discriminatory or under 18. However, notwithstanding such progress, there are some countries which despite requiring a minimum age for marriage, also provides for an exception to that minimum age upon parental consent or court’s authorisation. For example, in Angola the minimum age for marriage is 18; however, the law allows for marriages below the age of 16 for boys and 15 for girls upon obtaining consent of parents which is mandatory in such cases. In Burkina Faso, the minimum age to marry is 17 for girls and 20 for boys; however, the Civil Court must undertake the necessary investigation where an exemption will not be granted for a man under 18 years and a woman under 15 years. In Ethiopia, the minimum age to marry is 18 but the law authorises the Minister of Justice to authorise marriages of persons aged under 18. In Morocco the minimum age to marry is 18, but Article 475 of the penal code indirectly allows child marriage. It is woeful that the same legislation that is used in fighting against child marriage is indirectly used to allow such.
Allowing exceptions for the minimum age of marriage, violates a child’s right to protection. Parental consent may be abused in the sense that it may unnecessarily be given simply because 1) a girl is pregnant and the family would like to avoid the embarrassment of an unmarried daughter falling pregnant, 2) perhaps they want to avoid the responsibility of having to feed one more mouth, 3) sometimes the consent may even be sought by the child, but the parents themselves may force a child to marry hoping they will receive financial and material assistance from the husband. It is recommended therefore that countries which still provide for exceptions to allow underage marriage with parental consent or court’s authorization to abolish such laws and allow for no exceptions to the minimum age of marriage.
Secondly the above provision promotes forced marriages. A forced marriage normally takes place when the bride, groom or both do not want to get married but are forced to by others, usually their families. It is a violation of fundamental human rights that cannot be justified legally, religiously or culturally. It is traumatic and can ruin people’s lives. Ordinarily, forcing an adult to marry another adult is always met with stiff opposition. Forcing a child to marry an adult is met with an even stronger opposition. Forcing a child to marry an adult who raped her is just sickening and should not be allowed for any reason whatsoever.
Thirdly, Article 475 indirectly causes suicide. Asking a girl to marry her rapist can lead to so much depression which is one of the main causes of suicide. Having no reasonable way out, one's best option could just be suicide. In Morocco, this controversial provision has resulted in some rape victims to commit suicide. In March 2012, Amina Fillali, a sixteen year old girl from a small town in the north of Morocco ended her days by swallowing rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. Two months later, Safae, a 15 year old girl from Tangier who was also forced to marry her rapist after he impregnated her. She attempted to commit suicide for the second time. Four months later, Chaimae, an 11 year old girl ended her days after she was raped. In November 2013, 16 year old Amina Tamiri committed suicide while her family was making arrangements for her to marry her rapist. Furthermore, it could equally be assumed that Article 475 could potentially lead to murder. Most rape victims would love to see their assailant dead therefore, bringing them together in marriage could just easily fast track that.
Fourthly, it provides an easy way out for rapists. One of the main purposes of criminal laws and penalties is to serve as a deterring agent that prevents criminals from indulging in certain criminal acts. Penalties such as a lengthy jail sentence or a heavy fine are enough to prevent some criminals from performing certain acts. Penalties that provide an easy way out would always be accepted by criminals and would not deter them from committing certain crimes. Under Moroccan law, rape is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison, rising between 10 and 20 years if the victim is a minor. This is a good incentive to stop most men from raping minors. But when another provision says that you are free from this sentence if you marry the minor you raped, then a man could just rape a girl because there is a 60 percent chance that he could end up marrying the girl. Even if the man does not like the girl, he would still prefer marrying her to 20 years in prison. Such a provision must be repealed.
In addition, most parents of rape victims who agree that their daughters be married out to the person who raped them do so just because of the family name, honor and tradition irrespective the girl's feelings. In some societies, the loss of a woman’s virginity outside of wedlock is considered a dishonour to herself and her family even if she is raped. They would rather make arrangements for the rape victims to marry their attackers. This is so wrong and emphasizes the negative role parents and traditions sometimes play in the lives of children. Any reasonable parent would know that the paramount consideration should be the welfare of the child, her well being, and her happiness. They should be thinking of ways to help her overcome the trauma of rape rather than giving her out in marriage to her rapist to rape her again and again all in the guise of protecting the family name and honor. The family’s honor does not equal a human life; a rape victim is not a product for the family to trade for their honor.
For a while now there has been a public outcry in Morocco for the repeal of Section 475 of the Penal Code. The Justice and Human Rights Commission of Morocco’s parliament has proposed removing a paragraph from the penal code that allows a rapist to escape prosecution by marrying his underage victim. A Moroccan parliamentary panel voted to repeal it. This repeal has been endorsed by the Justice and Development Party, the moderate Islamist group that leads the government. This is a positive step in the right direction. The removal of article 475 would be a step forward in changing conservative attitudes. There is an online petition for the removal of article 475. If you believe that this article should be repealed, show your support by signing the petition.