When I heard about the plight of 16 year old Moroccan, Amina al-Filali, I felt angry, disgusted and ashamed to be associated with this country. There is outrage among many of her fellow countrywomen too, as they mourn a tragic victim of their homeland’s prejudiced penal code.
16 year old Amina claimed that she’d been raped by a 23 year old man, but rather than see shame bestowed upon the family by protecting their daughter and seeing her rapist go to prison, her parents instead forced her to marry him. Amina, seeing no way out of an abusive marriage and having nobody to turn to, saw no solution other than to take her own life, and in March of last year, young Amina poisoned herself to death.
There are many things that are shocking about this case, and if you’re anything like me, you wind up asking yourself if you’ve been born into the same world as these people. Can a country like Morocco, that plays hosts to many millions of tourists each year, really be a part of my world, a world where any rape is an act of punishable violence and the law actually tries to protect vulnerable women rather than punish them? What kind of country has judges who allow minors to marry when the law clearly states that individuals must be 18, and what kind of country states in Article 475 of its penal code, that those convicted of so-called ‘corruption’ or ‘kidnapping’ of a minor, may go free if they marry their victim? Perhaps most shocking of all, is that this country has a law that sees fit to make distinctions between ‘rape resulting in deflowering’ and ‘just plain rape’. Yes, you did read that right, and doubtless you’re feeling just as sickened as I am that the words ‘just plain rape’ can even exist together in the same sentence.
No doubt as a direct result of the publicity Amina’s case received, the Moroccan government is proposing a change to it’s current laws regarding rape, but many say that it is simply not enough. Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (who clearly has her work cut out for her) stated, “The penal code has to be totally reformed because it contains many provisions that discriminate against women and doesn’t protect women against violence.’
Take the term ‘conjugal rape’; recent statistics have shown that half of all attacks against women happen within conjugal relations, yet new proposals to the current law give a 10 year penalty for consensual sex between an adult and a minor, but a sentence twice as long if that act has resulted in ‘deflowering.’ That sex can ever be thought of as being consensual when it occurs between an adult and a minor (and let’s face it, a minor is essentially a child), is uncomprehendable enough, let alone that a man should be able to marry a child, but to say that that act is somehow worse if it has resulted in the child losing their virginity, is utterly unfathomable.
Fouzie Assouli, president of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights explains that the penal code only punishes those who afflict violence upon women, if it perceives them as being ‘morally’ in the wrong, rather than taking the standpoint that all forms of violence against women should be punishable. That morals should play an active role in this, or any other such case, is hard to believe, and it’s even harder to believe and accept that this could be the mindset and mentality of so many Moroccan people.
At the time, the Justice Ministry stated that Amina hadn’t been raped but that she had instead had consensual sex with a man, when she was 15. The Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, went on to say that the marriage provision spoken of in Amina’s case had rarely been used anyway:
“In 550 cases of the corruption of minors between 2009 and 2010, only seven were married under Article 475 of the penal code, the rest were pursued by justice.”
Oh well, I guess that makes it alright then.
While I wouldn’t want one case to tarnish an entire country’s reputation, it’s pretty clear that this was not an isolated incident and Morocco needs to change its mentality towards women if it ever wants to be taken seriously and be respected by the rest of the modern world.