Amina Filali’s choice: Stay silent, or marry your rapist
Amina Filali was raped at the age of 15. Instead of observing justice in the form of her attacker being imprisoned, she was forced to marry him.
Having recently returned from a holiday in Morocco, one thing I noticed was the lack of women out in public in the evening. Aside from tourists, we very rarely saw a woman in the street – unless they were homeless and begging.
Meeting a British man who had retired in the country five years ago, we discussed this observation and he informed us that Morocco was in fact renowned for being the fairest of the Muslim countries for women’s rights.
In February 2004, King Muhammad VI introduced reforms to the law which raised the minimum age of marriage for women from fifteen to eighteen. Beforehand men had been allowed to divorce women outside of court – but mutual consent and a court hearing was now required by law.
The wife’s duty of obedience to her husband was also abolished and there could now be prenup-style agreement regarding assets in divorce, so they didn’t automatically belong to the husband. Inheritance and custody of children was no longer a male right and it was mandated that 10 per cent of seats in the lower house of the Moroccan parliament be reserved for women. Though not banning polygamy, it is now massively restricted (it can be approved by a judge under “special circumstances”, as with other laws, including marriage under the age of 18).
Although this long overdue reevaluation of Moroccan law might have gained King Muhammad VI a great deal of respect for attempting to bring equality into the country’s legal system, one law which was left in, however, was Article 475. This allows rapists to marry their victim to escape prosecution.
A woman losing her virginity outside of marriage is often reputed to bring families into dishonour, so the law is said to be enforced to allow a women’s virtue to be restored.
The “special circumstances” in this case forced an underage girl to marry the man who sexually assaulted her. After months in a violent marriage with the man who should have been locked away so he couldn’t repeat such a crime, Amina felt she had no other choice than to take rat poison to end her own life.
An online Moroccan newspaper even reported her father as saying that it was the court officials who suggested marriage.
A government study last year found that about 25 per cent of Moroccan women had been sexually assaulted at least once. That’s up to a quarter of women who would possibly have to make the choice between keeping their attack secret, or reporting the violent crime and risk facing a life married to their rapist.
Despite this Morocco has a reasonably low rate of reported rape in comparison to other countries. In 2009, the UN revealed that there were 3.6 cases of rape reported per 100,000 women. This might indicate that many women are deciding against reporting their attack, as they face dishonour or forced marriage as a result.
Fouzia Assouoli, president of the Democratic league for Women’s Rights said:
“It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon. We have been asking for years for the cancellation of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice.”
Although the introduction of Mudawana (or “family code”) in 2004 may have brought the African country leaps ahead in terms of women’s rights, this tradition still occurs here and in many parts of the Middle East.
Amina Filali was one tragic example of why the law needs to be abolished, but her legacy will draw global attention to the horrific choice women are still being been forced to make.Tagged in: Amina Filali, Article 475, divorce, islam, morocco, muslim, rape, rape morocco, suicide, women's rights
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