Casablanca — Human rights activists are hailing a Moroccan decision to modernise the country's legislation regarding rape and child abduction.
The Moroccan justice ministry announced last week that it would re-examine a controversial section of the kingdom's laws that allows the rapist of a minor to marry their victim.
The January 22nd decision by the justice ministry to reform section 475 of the penal code received a warm welcome from activists.
The current second paragraph of the section states that when a prepubescent minor is kidnapped or forced to marry her attacker, the assailant can only be sued by those who press charges and have the authority to have the marriage annulled; and he cannot be convicted once the annulment has been pronounced.
With the removal of the second paragraph, minors' rights will be further protected.
Moroccan legislation has to adjust to changes in society and to human rights' universal values, Don't Touch My Child Organisation President Najat Annoure said in a press release about the amendment.
"This is a reaction to the on-going demands from local NGOs for the maximum protection of minors' rights against anything or anyone liable to violate their well-being as children," she said.
Casablanca attorney Salima Nehrich considered the current code appalling, saying "it would have been great if this clause of section 475 - which gives the rapist the choice to marry his victim in order not to be prosecuted - had been removed a long time ago... but I guess it's never too late to do the right thing."
Feminist activist Almoula Houria agreed with Nehrich, arguing that they should not have waited for other women to be victimised in order to speak up about these sections of the penal code - one that is becoming progressively incompatible with a legislation, now more concerned with protecting children's and women's rights.
"There's still a lot to do because children's and women's rights remain the weakest link in our penal code," Houria said.
The issue was brought to the fore last year when 16-year-old Amina El Filali drank rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist.
Her March 10th suicide provoked a national debate over the necessity of changing section 475. Some claim that removing this clause was a victory for the civil society whose activists fought so hard for the feminist cause and the legal protection of children.
The amendments to section 475 will ensure the protection of minors from sexual violence, Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid said January 22nd in Rabat.
The minister suggested adding three paragraphs to section 475 to further protect child victims of sexual assault after kidnapping or statutory rape. The proposed changes would also create tough punishments for criminals.
"If a sexual relation, even consensual, is followed by kidnapping or statutory rape, the guilty party could serve up to ten years, and in the case of a sexual assault, up to twenty; in the case of rape, they could be sentenced to 30 years," a statement from the justice ministry said.