The suicide of a Moroccan teenager who reportedly had been forced to marry her rapist has spurred calls from around the world to change criminal laws long lamented by Moroccan feminists.
Human rights groups complain that Moroccan law has been interpreted to allow someone who rapes a minor to escape punishment if he marries the victim. Moroccan media reported that was what happened to Amina Filali, a 16-year-old who reportedly swallowed rat poison Saturday.
"It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon," Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, told the Associated Press. "We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code, which allows the rapist to escape justice.”
The Moroccan government has argued that the law applies only if the victim agrees to marry, but activists say young women can be pressured into marriage to protect family honor. Her father told a Moroccan news website that the courts had pushed the idea, the Associated Press reported.
Activists took to Twitter to spread news of the reported suicide using the hashtag #RIPAmina. "The tragedy of Amina is a disgrace to humanity," Emirati political commentator Mishaal Al Gergawi wrote.
The 16-year-old was not legally old enough to marry: Morocco raised the marriage age from 15 to 18 while reforming its family code seven years ago, according to a U.S. government report last year. But many judges did not agree with the law, and some attorneys didn’t know about the reforms.
Moroccan women are seen as better protected than other women in North Africa because of those and other reforms advanced by King Mohammed VI, according to the Social Institutions and Gender Index.
The new Moroccan Constitution sets up the principle of equality between men and women in all spheres. Compared with other countries in the Arab region, Morocco ranks high in female political representation.
Yet Moroccan women still face laws that are lenient toward husbands who harm their wives, unequal inheritances and other inequities, according to reports from human rights groups. Nearly two-thirds of Moroccan women are subjected to violence in their lifetimes, according to a survey last year.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Women's groups demonstrate to mark International Women's Day in downtown Rabat, Morocco, this month. Credit: Zacarias Garcia / European Pressphoto Agency