Amina Filali was only 16 years old when she took her own life. According to reports, Amina was raped last year at the age of 15 by an older man, but that crime alone was not what drove her to swallow rat poison. Instead of seeing her rapist punished for his crime, Amina was forced to marry him. A few months into an unconscionable marriage, her rapist/ husband was beating her, she told her mother. Her mother counseled her to try and bear it, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massa. Amina must have seen no way out, no future worth living.
Why would a judge order – or even recommend – a young girl to marry her rapist? Under Article 475 of the Morocco Penal Code, a perpetrator of rape on a minor is allowed to escape punishment if he marries the victim. While it may not be a provision of Moroccan law that is used frequently, it is a violation of human rights that has attracted international scrutiny both before and after Amina’s tragic death. I saw this myself when I was in Geneva last November with a group of Moroccan human rights activists. We were there to participate in the review of Morocco’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Violence against women is considered torture under the Convention and the independent committee of experts charged with monitoring state compliance with the treaty had many pointed questions for the Moroccan delegation about Article 475 and other provisions related to the Moroccan government’s failure to protect women from violence.
There is no text that allows a rapist to escape prosecution or a “kidnapper” to escape punishment if he marries his victim, the Government assured the UN Committee Against Torture. The penal code has a law on the rape of a minor, but the victim – if she has reached puberty – may CHOOSE to marry. The marriage, if it takes place, continued the Moroccan Government delegation, would have to be based on the consent of the victim.
As Amina’s case shows, “consent” is neither adequate protection for a minor nor a remedy for the crime of rape. Victims are not often in a position to offer informed consent as they may be pressured into marriage as an alternative in order to preserve family honor. But in Amina’s case, Amina’s father has, according to some news reports, denied that the family ever consented to the court ruling ordering marriage to preserve family honor.
Amina’s story may be shocking to some of us, but it is a glimpse at the reality of the violence faced by women in Morocco every day. While it is difficult to determine the exact prevalence of domestic violence throughout Morocco, statistics that are available demonstrate that domestic violence is a widespread problem. A 2011 national study on the prevalence of violence against women found that 62.8% of women in Morocco of ages 18-64 had been victims of some form of violence during the year preceding the study.
The Moroccan Penal Code provides insufficient protection against rape and sexual assault, which are often unreported and prosecutions not pursued. Spousal (also called marital or conjugal) rape is not specifically considered a crime in the Penal Code nor is it prosecuted in practice. Women are deemed to have consented to all sexual relations with their husband by the fact of marrying them. Women do not seek help when they are raped by their husbands because of the social stigma associated with rape, the difficulty in proving rape, and the futility in reporting an act that the Moroccan Government does not even recognize it as a crime. The issue of marital rape in Morocco is trivialized by the officials and executives, and is considered as being unimportant, and therefore, it is not defined nor is it acknowledged by the Moroccan law.
Rape cases in general are difficult to prove in Morocco, as actual physical injuries are required to prove non-consent. Under the Penal Code, rape is considered a crime against morality and not identified as a crime against persons.Women are deterred from reporting rape cases because of the lack of response from law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Even when a rape case is investigated, the perpetrator is not always punished.
Furthermore, sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal in Morocco, and penalties are increased if one or both people engaged in the affair are already married. Thus, there is a strong disincentive for a woman like Amina to report a rape as she risks being prosecuted for illicit sexual relations if she does not prevail in proving her rape case and she is not married to her rapist. Is it any wonder that Amina apparently kept her rape a secret even from her parents for two months?
Amina’s story is a tragedy. But the media attention it has drawn is a cause for hope. Amina’s story has raised awareness both inside and outside of the country about violence against women. In addition to the media attention, there is a reinvigorated campaign to abolish the law. There is a Facebook page and an online petition. There have been demonstrations, with protests planned for this Saturday, March 17.
The silver lining to Amina’s story would be that the internal and external pressure on the Moroccan government finally results in the passing of a Violence Against Women law in Morocco. (A draft is currently stalled in InterMinisterial consultations and has not yet been introduced in Parliament.)
As the Moroccan human rights activists recommended to the UN Committee Against Torture last November:
The Moroccan Government should pass a specific violence against women law that contains both criminal and civil provisions.
• Care should be taken that that the new law does not contain provisions that would cause further harm to victims.
• The new law should expand the definition of violence against women and ensure various types of relationships
are covered by the law
• The new law should establish civil remedies, including comprehensive Civil Protection Order provisions for
women who are victims of violence
Morocco’s Penal Code should be amended to:
• explicitly criminalize conjugal rape;
• abolish criminal prosecutions for illicit sexual relations;
• eliminate laws that criminalize those who assist or harbor married women;
• abolish provisions that allow a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution for marrying his victim; and
• eliminate discriminatory legal provisions that place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim of violence.
Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, Al Arabiya News, March 14, 2012 http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/14/200577.html
Morocco protest after raped Amina Filali kills herself, BBC News, March 15, 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17379721
Morocco Penal Code, Article 475
U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “2010 Human Rights Practices: Morocco”, (April 8, 2011), available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154468.htm (last visited October 10, 2011).
Written Communications to The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (26 September 2011).
MOROCCO: Challenges with addressing domestic violence in compliance with the Convention Against Torture 47th Session of the Committee Against Torture (31 October – 25 November, 2011), Joint Written Statment submitted by The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, in collaboration with an alliance of Moroccan NGOs at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/final_shadow_report_to_cat_re_morocco_response_to_dv_oct_14_2011_sent_to_geneva_2.pdf