Lawmakers in Morocco voted unanimously to amend an article of the penal code so that men who rape underage girls can no longer avoid prosecution by marrying their victims.
The move comes two years after 16-year-old Amini Filali committed suicide following her forced marriage to Moustapha Fellak, about 25 years old, who raped her. She claimed Fellak continued to abuse her, which he denied. Seven months after their marriage, Filali swallowed rat poison.
Her death sparked protests across the country and highlighted the different attitudes toward rape victims in rural and urban communities. One in four women in Morocco is a victim of violence, rights groups say, with the most vulnerable living in the countryside.
In some of the more conservative parts of Morocco, the BBC reports, an unmarried girl or woman who loses her virginity—even if she is raped—is viewed as a dishonor to her family and is no longer able to marry. For some families, marrying the perpetrator can address that problem.
Article 475, which gives a five-year prison term to anyone who “abducts or deceives” a minor “without violence, threat or fraud, or attempts to do so,” was first proposed by the country’s Islamist-led government a year ago. Before it was amended, its second clause stated that the perpetrator, should he marry the victim, “can no longer be prosecuted except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed.”
Activists praised parliament’s decision to amend the controversial article, but agree there’s a long way to go. “This changes one paragraph in an article when there are a lot of articles that need to be changed,” Stephanie Willman Bordat, a founding partner at Mobilizing for Rights Associates, told the New York Times. “Article 490 still makes it illegal to have sexual relations outside of marriage, which pressures the minor victims of rape and all rape victims, even adults, not to bring charges.”