Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475

Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.
(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Originally published on The Advocates Post

In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town.  He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.”  One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint.  The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man.  In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.”  In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him.  “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.

This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The submission  draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which  provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.[1]

Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family.  Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her.[2] Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues.[3]  Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.

Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28.[4]  In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result.  She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings.  DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist.  Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.[5]

Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475  from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code,[6] victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490.[7] In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.[8]

In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man.  She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations.  She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association.  The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.[9]

Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco.  While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,[10]the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.[11]Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing.  In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized.[12]  In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted.  33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16[13].  The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls.[14] The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted.  Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.[15]

In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise.[16]  Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery.  Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty.  At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing.  Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.[17]

In spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors.  For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.”[19]  The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”[20]

In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”[21]

On January 22, 2014, Morocco’s Parliament voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  While this is a positive step, and certainly a victory to be celebrated, the bill that was approved unanimously this week only abrogates the exoneration through marriage provision.   It does not change the rest of Art. 475 which provides that a man convicted of statutory rape in Morocco is still only subject to a few years in prison and a small fine.   It does nothing to impact the larger problems faced by minor girls who experience sexual abuse or early marriage in Morocco.

The Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls.   Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:

  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
  • Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
  • Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
  • Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.

Related post:  Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco


[1]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111)  à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.

available at http://adala.justice.gov.ma/FR/Legislation/TextesJuridiques.aspx.

[3]See, e.g.,http://www.illionweb.com/larticle-475-tue-toujours/, http://www.illionweb.com/bouchra-victime-gang/, and http://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/21035/tetouan-fille-suicide-apres-avoir.html.  In addition, one association working with MRA reported that their region of Morocco alone, three girls married under Art. 475 had recently tried to kill themselves. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[4]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).  In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor.  A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »)art. 490.

[7]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10] Dahir n° 1-04-22 du 12 hija 1424 (3 février 2004) portant promulgation de la loi n° 70-03 portant Code de la Famille («Family Code ») art. 19.

[11] The authorization is not subject to appeal. Id. art. 20.  Article 21 also requires the legal tutor’s (guardian’s) consent.Id. art. 21.

[13]Id.  Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level.  One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors.  Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[15]Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).

[16]Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).

[17]Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).

[18]In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and  transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013.  This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code.  A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms.  Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013.  The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills.  A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html.  Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  See http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.html www.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM

[19]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

[20]Idpara. 112.

[21]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco

Morocco demonstration

Demonstrations in Morocco after the suicide of Amina Filali

 Image source

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.

Sources:

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).

Moroccan Haut Commissaire au Plan, “Principaux résultats de l’Enquête Nationale sur la Prévalence de la Violence à l’Egard des Femmes (version française)”, (January 2011), available at  http://www.hcp.ma/Conference-debat-consacree-a-l-etude-de-la-violence-a-l-egard-de-femmes-au-Maroc_a66.html (last visited October 6, 2011); see also, UN Women, “Moroccan Government Release Extensive Gender-Based Violence Study”, (10 January 2011), available at  http://www.unwomen.org/2011/01/moroccan-government-releases-extensive-gender-based-violence-study/ (last visited October 6, 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

My Love Affair With Patrick Stewart

 
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn.”
-Patrick Stewart on The Legacy of Domestic Violence,
 The Guardian, 26 November, 2009
He had me at “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”  In my opinion, his Jean-Luc Picard is the only Star Trek captain worthy of helming the USS Enterprise;  Picard makes Kirk and the others look like a pack of braggarts, whiners, and wimps.  For more than 20 years, my love for Patrick Stewart has burned strong and bright, “the star to every wandering bark”.  A talented Shakespearean actor, Sir Patrick nails every role he plays, from Othello to Shylock to the Seattle Opera director with a crush on Frasier.  Then there’s his one-man version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  I can’t think of another actor who I would want to see play 40+ characters.  And let’s not forget the lecherous caricature of himself that he played inExtras. Good gravy, that made my heart beat faster!
My love for Patrick Stewart is sexless, as chaste and pure as that of the heroine in a Victorian novel.  I feel for him what the young X-Men feel for Professor Charles Xavier – admiration, respect, passionate loyalty.   It’s a love, I know, not meant to be tested in real life.  Yet I can’t help myself.
I’ve never met Patrick Stewart.  I know almost nothing of his personal life beyond the fact that he choses to use his fame to support human rights. He’s been a long time supporter of Amnesty International in his native UK. I’ve written recommendation letters for students applying to the internship program he endowed at Amnesty.  (None of them ever got the Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship, so I can’t even claim that two-degrees of separation.)
What really took me ’round the bend on Patrick Stewart was his decision five or six years ago to talk about his own experience with growing up with domestic violence.
“I experienced first-hand violence against my mother from an angry and unhappy man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. Great harm was done by those events – and of course I mean the physical harm, the physical scars that were left, the blood that was spilled, the wounds that were exposed – but there were also other aspects of violence which have a lasting impact physiologically on family members.  It is so destructive and tainting. 
It’s taken me a long time to be able to speak about what happened.  Then, two years ago, around the time of the launch of the Amnesty International campaign to  Stop Violence Against Women all that changed. After consultation with my brothers, we all felt that it was time for me to speak out about what had happened in our childhood, and to show people that domestic violence is protected by other peoples’ silence.”
– Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic.  It violates the fundamental human rights of women and often results in serious injury or death. Studies show that between one quarter and one half of all women in the world have been abused by intimate partners.  Certainly men experience domestic violence as well, but women are victims of violence in approximately 95% of cases of domestic violence. (For sources and more statistics, see StopVAW.org)
It took the human rights community far too long to recognize domestic violence and other gender-based rights as human rights abuses.  Because the violence is committed by private actors rather than the government in the context of family life, domestic violence was long considered to be a “private matter”.  Fortunately, the international human rights law has progressed and violence against women is now considered a  human rights abuse.  The government has a responsiblity to prevent violence against women from taking place and to prosecute or punish the perpetrators of the violence.  The UN Committee Against Torture has even clarified that violence against women, including domestic violence, can in certain circumstances be defined as torture under the Convention Against Torture.
Implementation of laws that protect women from domestic violence is, of course, the ongoing problem throughout the world.
It is never easy for survivors of human rights abuses to talk about the violence they experienced.  It comes at great personal expense and sometimes that expense is just too great for people to overcome.  There has been a lot of outrage recently about Rihanna and Chris Brown. I wish Rihanna would become an advocate against domestic violence  – photographed holding an Amnesty International placard – but I can’t judge her or the decisions she makes about her life. It does make me think, though, that it is doubly important for male celebrities like Patrick Stewart to use their fame as a platform to raise awareness about violence against women.
I defy you to watch this video and tell my love of Patrick Stewart is wrong.
What will it take to end domestic violence worldwide?  It will take more than Sir Patrick Stewart.  As he says in this Amnesty video, it will take sustained government action to ensure that domestic violence is treated as a public health issue rather than a private matter.  But Patrick Stewart’s decision to use his celebrity to speak out about the domestic violence experienced in his childhood home puts us one step farther along that road.
“Violence against women diminishes us all.  If you fail to raise your hand in protest, then you make yourself part of the problem.”   
– Patrick Stewart, Turning the Tide,
Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2006
Stop Violence Against Women.
Captain Picard says, “Make it so.”