Morocco on Thursday said it would amend a law allowing rapists to marry their underage female victims after the suicide of a teenage girl raised doubts about the effectiveness of reforms to women’s rights in the country.
Sixteen-year-old Amina El-Filali killed herself last week near the northern city of Larache by swallowing rat poison after a six-month forced marriage to the man who raped her.
Local human rights activists say the law violates women’s rights and was created to avoid damage to the reputation of the victim’s family.
“This is a painful incident… This is an issue we can’t afford to ignore,” said Communication Minister and government spokesman Mustafa el-Khalfi.
“She was raped twice – once by the rapist and the second time by marrying him… We plan harsher sentences against rapists and we will launch… a debate about law 475 to reform it,” he told reporters.
Rape victims in Morocco carry a stigma of shame and dishonour. They are often suspected by police and judges of consent, and little social assistance is given to help them rebuild their lives.
Convicted rapists face five to 10 years in prison, and up to 20 years when the victim is underage.
At the westernmost boundary of the Muslim world, and only a stone throw’s away from Europe, Moroccan women find themselves enjoying more freedoms. A family law reformed in 2004 won the North African country praise from the West for giving Moroccan women more rights than many Arab states.
But that reform, which led to the creation of matrimonial courts, has been dogged by Morocco’s conservative and predominantly male judges, and by a failure to adopt laws to ensure better protection to women from physical abuse.
While it allowed women to seek divorce, made procedures for polygamy complicated and raised the minimum marriage age for women to 18 from 15, it enabled judges to rely on their own discretion in allowing minors to be married.
One out of eight rural Moroccan women aged between 15-19 was married in 2010 while the rate stood at one out of seven in 1994, official data shows.