Women protesting in Morocco
Women protesting in Rabat, calling for gender equality Reuters

A controversial penal code article that allowed rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims has been unanimously abolished by the Moroccan parliament.

Article 475 previously provided a prison term from one to five years for anyone who "abducts or deceives" a minor "without violence, threat or fraud, or attempts to do so".

However, in the second clause it specified that in the event of the victim marrying the perpetrator, "he 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".

The repeal of Article 475 was first proposed by Morocco's Islamist-led government a year ago, after a torrent of domestic and international criticism.

Amnesty urged the Moroccan King to amend the law, claiming that "several teenage survivors of sexual violence have committed suicide in recent months.

"Public pressure to protect survivors of sexual violence had peaked in March 2012 when 16-year-old Amina Filali swallowed rat poison and killed herself, after being forced to marry the man she said had raped her," Amnesty reported last November.

Amina's parents and a judge had forced the marriage to protect the family honour.

However, after seven months of marriage with the man who had violated her, Amina could not handle the injustice and killed herself.

Local director of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), Abdel Ali El-Allawi, explained that "He [the rapist] was put in prison... the family of the rapist entered negotiations with the family of the victim. They proposed the two get married.

"These are things that are common here in Morocco. When a man rapes a woman or girl, the justice authorities say, you have a choice — you can marry the girl or go to prison," El-Allawi continued.

'It is not enough'

Activists hailed the amendment, but also demanded further changes to inculcate gender equality.

"It's a very important step. But it's not enough.... We are campaigning for a complete overhaul of the penal code for women," women's rights campaigner Fatima Maghnaoui told the AFP news agency.

The amendment to article 475 adds a new paragraph which relies on other problematic articles of the Moroccan Penal Code.

"The definition of rape in Article 486 fails to recognise the reality that rape is committed in different ways including within coercive circumstances which do not necessarily require physical violence, with perpetrators and victims of all genders, and within marriage. This flawed, narrow definition still allows rapists to escape accountability," Amnesty said.

The amendment also makes the severity of punishments dependant on whether rape survivors were virgins or not, referring to Article 488.
Therefore, sexual violence is still framed in terms of "decency" and "honour" rather than focusing on survivors and their rights.

"Morocco still needs a comprehensive strategy to protect women and girls from violence, with input from women's rights groups who have been excluded from the process so far [...]It's time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.