14/12/2012 12:07 GMT | Updated 12/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Morocco: Amend Penal Code to Protect Women Against Violence and Discrimination

In solidarity with female victims of violence and discrimination, the "Spring of Dignity" coalition organised a human chain last Saturday, which started at the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice in Rabat and ended at the seat of the House of Representatives. Several hundred people took part. The coalition, which includes more than 40 associations, networks and organisations, is calling on the government to amend the Penal Code, including Article 475, which still sanctions the exoneration of a rapist if he marries his victim. It is also demanding further measures including the criminalisation of marital rape, sexual harassment and psychological abuse, the legalisation of safe abortion and the revision of discriminatory articles related to prostitution and trafficking under the Penal Code.

For some time already, the coalition, along with Equality Now and other partners, has been calling on the Government of Morocco to amend its Penal Code as a matter of urgency. The public is also being called on to Take Action and keep pressuring the Government to end the legal exemption for rapists who marry their victims and to ensure that the prohibition on child marriage is enforced.

A recent case illustrates the severe consequences of the current law. On 11 March 2012, 16-year-old Amina Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. Neither Amina nor the rapist wanted to marry but court officials, including the prosecutor, suggested it when the victim and her family reported the rape. Culturally, the stigma of being raped is often too much for both rape victims and their parents, causing many to reluctantly agree to the marriage. Reports suggest that after their marriage Amina was also beaten by her husband. With only the prospect of further rapes and beatings in her future Amina took her own life. The death of Amina shocked Moroccans and could lead to increased active support for changing the law.

According to the Preamble of Morocco's Constitution, Morocco is working to banish and combat all forms of discrimination, including on the basis of sex. Amina's case highlights that women and girls are still vulnerable to societal and legal discrimination and that accessing justice for abuse remains a serious challenge. As in this case, judges can allow marriage of minors, and completely disregard the rights of the child and her vulnerability to abuse. Pushing a woman or girl to marry her rapist means that his violence is exonerated and her abuse continues. It also sends conveys the message that if a perpetrator is caught, he can find a way out of being punished.

Several countries, such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay, with a similar law to Morocco's exempting rapists from punishment by marriage have already amended their laws over the past few years. Ethiopia repealed its law in 2005 following Equality Now's campaign on the issue and the advocacy of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. A very similar law in Argentina, Article 132 of the Penal Code, highlighted in Equality Now's report - Words and Deeds - Holding Governments Accountable in the Beijing +15 Review Process - was repealed recently by the Argentinian National Congress. Morocco should do the same, setting an example for other countries in the region, such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, which have similar laws.

One of the key outcomes of Saturday's demonstration is that female parliamentarians have decided to establish a new collective, which seeks to put pressure on the Minister of Justice to open dialogue in reforming the Penal Code. This is a significant step forward, but without the continued support of the public, it may not be enough to generate change. Please support the campaign directly by choosing an option below.

To Take Action on 'Morocco: End the legal exemption for rapists who marry their victims', please click here.

To Take Action and sign our petition calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws, please click here.