Arab world ditches rape, marry law

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Rights groups urge countries like Iraq to follow in the footsteps of Tunisia. Wiki Commons CC BY-SA

BEIRUT – Middle Eastern countries should follow Tunisia’s example and immediately repeal laws that let rapists off the hook if they marry their victims, human rights groups said.

Tunisia passed a law last week to protect women against violence, which included removing an article allowing a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.

“Tunisia sends a message to the rest of the region that they should follow suit,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“These provisions…are a relic of the past and the Middle East and North Africa need to…leave it in the past,” she said.

Campaigners have said such laws condemn girls to a lifetime of sexual violence and domestic abuse at the hands of their rapist.

Countries with similar provisions include Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, according to Equality Now, a global legal advocacy organisation.

“This article is a violation of girls’ and women’s rights…it’s crazy we have such laws in our countries while we are in 2017,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s Middle East consultant.

Jordan’s parliament will vote on whether to scrap its marriage loophole. Bahrain and Lebanon are also discussing amending or abolishing similar provisions.

Jordanian parliamentarian Wafa Bani Mustafa said parents often agreed to such marriages to minimise “family shame”, but she said no girl should be “presented as a gift” to her rapist.

She said it was crucial to end impunity for rapists and to protect their victims who are mostly under 18.

In Lebanon, rights group Abaad is campaigning against the country’s law with billboards of women in bloodied and torn wedding gowns. The caption reads: “A white dress doesn’t cover up rape.”

In April campaigners hung white wedding dresses from nooses on Beirut’s popular seafront.

“It’s a slap in the face. If you survive a rape then you have to survive it again and again and again,” said Abaad programme manager Roula Masri.

Some countries in the region have already closed their loopholes. Egypt repealed its law in 1999 and Morocco overhauled its law in 2014 following the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the attempted suicide of a 15-year-old who were forced to marry their rapists.

Such laws also exist in several countries outside the Middle East including the Philippines and Tajikistan, according to Equality Now. Thomson Reuters Foundation

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