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March 19, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Morocco protest against rape-marriage law

Several hundred women’s rights activists have demonstrated outside Morocco’s parliament to demand the repeal of a law on sexual violence.

Morocco’s penal code allows a rapist to marry his victim if she is a minor as a way of avoiding prosecution.

A 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, killed herself a week ago after being severely beaten during a forced marriage to her rapist.

The protesters held signs saying, “The law has killed Amina”.

The parents of Amina Filali were at the protest, says the BBC’s Nora Fakim, in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

They say their daughter was pressured by a local court into marrying her rapist, who then abused her.

She died after swallowing rat poison on 10 March.

‘Special circumstances’

Her case has shocked many in Morocco. Women’s rights groups have started an online campaign to have the law – article 475 – repealed. A Facebook page called “We are all Amina Filali” has been set up.

The protest is an attempt to change attitudes concerning sex before marriage, especially in cases of rape, where the woman can sometimes be regarded as the criminal rather than the victim in order to preserve the family’s honour.

Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights, says the removal of article 475 would be a step forward in changing conservative attitudes.

However, the protesters feel let down by the lack of response from the government and are furious at the justice minister, who has not been willing to open an inquiry into Ms Filali’s suicide.

The demonstrators want women’s rights to be respected, not violated, and they want to help poor women such as Ms Filali to be able to stand up for themselves.

“What we have witnessed is scandalous. We have had enough. We must change this law, we must change the penal code,” said Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights.

Ms Filali came from the small northern town of Larache, near Tangiers.

In poor, conservative rural areas such as this, it is unacceptable for a woman to lose her virginity before marriage – and the dishonour is hers and her family’s even if she is raped, our correspondent says.

The legal age of marriage in Morocco is 18, unless there are “special circumstances” – which is the reason why Ms Filali was married despite being under-age.

A judge can only recommend marriage if all parties involved agree – but activists say pressure is often applied to the victim’s family to avoid a scandal.

Ms Filali’s father said that when he reported the rape of his daughter, he was advised of the option to marry by court officials.

“The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry. He said, ‘Go and make the marriage contract’,” Lahcen Filali told an online newspaper, goud.ma.

Campaigners are also calling for the judge who allowed the marriage and the rapist to be jailed.

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