RABAT, Morocco – The case of a 16-year-old girl who killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist has spurred outrage among Morocco's internet activists and calls for changes to the country's laws.
An online petition, a Facebook page and countless tweets expressed horror over the suicide of Amina Filali, who swallowed rat poison on Saturday to protest her marriage to the man who raped her a year earlier.
Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows for the "kidnapper" of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution, and it has been used to justify a traditional practice of making a rapist marry his victim to preserve the honor of the woman's family.
"Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law," tweeted activist Abadila Maaelaynine.
Abdelaziz Nouaydi, who runs the Adala Assocation for legal reform, said a judge can recommend marriage only in the case of agreement by the victim and both families.
"It is not something that happens a great deal — it is very rare," he said, but admitted that the family of the victim sometimes agrees out of fear that she won't be able to find a husband if it is known she was raped.
The marriage is then pushed on the victim by the families to avoid scandal, said Fouzia Assouli, president of Democratic League for Women's Rights.
"It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon," she said."We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice."
The victim's father said in an interview with an online Moroccan newspaper that it was the court officials who suggested from the beginning the marriage option when they reported the rape.
"The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry, he said 'go and make the marriage contract,'" said Lahcen Filali in an interview that appeared on goud.ma Tuesday night.
In many societies, the loss of a woman's virginity outside of wedlock is a huge stain of honor on the family.
In many parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition whereby a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring her honor. There is a similar injunction in the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy
Morocco updated its family code in 2004 in a landmark improvement of the situation of women, but activists say there's still room for improvement.
In cases of rape, the burden of proof is often on the victim and if she can't prove she was attacked, a woman risks being prosecuted for debauchery.
"In Morocco, the law protects public morality but not the individual," said Assouli, adding that legislation outlawing all forms of violence against women, including rape within marriage, has been stuck in the government since 2006.
According to the father's interview, the girl was accosted on the street and raped when she was 15, but it was two months before she told her parents.
He said the court pushed the marriage, even though the perpetrator initially refused. He only consented when faced with prosecution. The penalty for rape is between five and 10 years in prison, but rises to 10 to 20 in the case of a minor.
Filali said Amina complained to her mother that her husband was beating her repeatedly during the five months of marriage but that her mother counseled patience.
A Facebook page called "We are all Amina Filali" has been formed and an online petition calling for Morocco to end the practice of marrying rapists and their victims has already gathered more than 1,000 signatures.