As of last Wednesday, Morocco appears ready and poised to appeal a provision of one of its most controversial laws in the penal code: Article 475. The law infamously dictates that rapists who attack minors may actually avoid a prison sentence (and any punishment at all, really) if they marry their victims.
Although the law has been scrutinized for decades, real legal action to amend the codes was spurred by a recent increase in the suicides of young women who were forced to marry the men who assaulted them. Widespread disgust for the law was especially present after 2012, when 16-year-old Amina al-Filali killed herself by drinking rat poison after seven months of marriage to her 23-year-old rapist.
The impending cancellation of the provision has prompted women’s rights activists in other Islamic-majority countries to review their own legal rights, and lobby for a similar liberalization of laws that address violence against women.
Below, we’ve looked into some of the most oppressive and outright egregious rape laws across the Middle East and North Africa.
1. Article 308, Jordan
This provision of Jordan’s penal code similarly allows rapists to avoid all penalty for their crimes if they marry the women and girls they violate.
Girls as young as 14 and 15 have been recorded as forced into marriage agreements with the men who violated them. In perhaps an even more messed up social practice, some advocates claim that this law protects women from being killed by their own relatives when outsiders learn that they’re no longer virgins.
Apparently, eight other countries -- Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain -- all have rape-marriage stipulations on the books.
2. "Illicit sex,” United Arab Emirates
Not just a nasty phrase, “illicit sex” is actually a crime in the UAE. In one instance, Marte Deborah Dalelv, a Norwegian woman working in Dubai, reported rape only to find herself on the other end of the justice system: incarcerated for adultery.
She was eventually “pardoned,” (a term I can’t even believe was used to describe the victim of this situation) by the government and didn’t have to serve her 16-month jail sentence.
3. No written laws, Saudi Arabia
Under observation of Saudi Arabia’s sharia law, rape is punishable by death (although there is no prohibition against spousal rape, which has no legal definition). However, no written laws that specifically criminalize rape exist, making it very difficult to gain a uniform understanding of Saudi Arabia’s legal redress for victims of these heinous crimes.
The conservative country has an additional slew of laws and societal practices that deter many rapes and sex crimes from being reported. In one case, a 19-year-old who reported her gang rape received 200 lashes and six months in jail since her testimony revealed that she had been alone with her attackers. Violating the segregation of the sexes mandated by Saudi law constituted a “crime of indecency.”
4. Rape as assault, Egypt
Although Egypt repealed Article 291 — its own version of a rape-marriage law — in 1999, the country has found itself increasingly confronting cases of sexual assault since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
According to a United Nations study, 96.5 percent of Egyptian women have been subject to sexual harassment in the form of touching or worse. In January, there were two reported cases of teenagers being raped with knives. And with rape legally classified as simple assault and no country-wide criminalization of domestic violence, women are increasingly unable to seek justice if abused.
5. Article 132, Afghanistan
This 2009 provision, signed into law by President Hamid Karzai, legalizes spousal rape by stating that a husband “has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night,” provided that the wife isn’t ill (I know, I know, how generous).
This law should almost come as no surprise, seeing how provisions to criminalize child marriage and ban baad — the practice of buying and selling women to settle arguments between families and businesses — were voted against in a May 2013 parliamentary session.
The Taliban in Afghanistan’s government may have been toppled in 2001, but the progress made for women’s rights since has been drearily slow to materialize.
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