Morocco: Amendment of rape provision is a step in the right direction

The Moroccan Parliament’s vote to amend a law so that rapists can no longer escape prosecution by marrying their victims if they are under 18 is an important step in the right direction, Amnesty International said today. 

The organization added that the amendment was long overdue and much more still needed to be done in the country and throughout the region. 

“Today’s vote is a welcome step but 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,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s suicide and nearly two years for the parliament to close the loophole that allowed rapists to avoid accountability. It’s time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse”.

The amendment also adds a new paragraph which relies on other problematic articles of the Penal Code which fail survivors of sexual violence. These include the definition of rape in Article 486, which fails to recognize 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.

The amendment also makes the severity of punishments dependant on whether rape survivors were virgins or not, referring to Article 488. In addition, it still frames sexual violence in terms of “decency” and “honour” rather than focusing on survivors and their right to protection, justice and rehabilitation. 

 “Women and girls have intrinsic human rights and their value should not be defined by their virginity, marital status or family situation,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Rape survivors continue to be deterred from filing complaints for fear of prosecution under articles which criminalize sexual relations outside marriage, and same-sex relations (Articles 490, 491 and 489). 

“Algeria and Tunisia should promptly follow suit and repeal similar provisions in their own legislation, as well as adopt comprehensive strategies to protect women and girls against sexual violence. Delays are costing lives,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“We hope today’s vote signals a complete shift in the way rape survivors are treated and that more measures will follow”.