New York — Women's rights activists in Mozambique are opposing proposed legislation that includes an old law essentially giving rapists impunity if they marry their victims, even if it results in forced early marriage.
Activists marched Thursday in the capital city of Maputo against a new penal code currently before parliament that would include a Portuguese colonial-era provision giving convicted rapists five-year suspended sentences if they wed and stay married to their victims for five years, according to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Earlier this year Morocco abolished a similar law that allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying an underage victim. Even though the age of marriage is 18 in Morocco, judges often ruled in favour of early forced marriage to preserve a family's honour, according to a report by Amnesty International.
In societies where the rape of a young girl and the loss of virginity casts a shadow of shame and stigma and decreases her chances of marriage, the law may encourage families to force young women into early marriages with their rapists, according to Amnesty, which is conducting campaigns against similar laws in Algeria and Tunisia.
Ernesto Lapapa, vice president of Mozambique's human rights and legality commission, told AFP that protection of family honour came up frequently in opinion surveys as an important factor in support of the law.
"Premature marriage is normal in Mozambique," Lapapa said, noting that "if someone is involved with a child, their family obliges them to get married."
At Thursday's march in Maputo, one young woman wore a blood-spattered wedding gown to lead a group of some 300 people to protest near the parliament building, where some carried banners reading, 'Marry the rapist? No!"
Protester Aulzira Camacho told AFP that the proposed new law "is an attack on us as women."
Activists also oppose the provision of the code that restricts the definition of criminal rape to vaginal penetration, excluding oral or anal penetration.
The new penal code is expected to come up for a final vote this spring.