Moroccans outraged over the suicide of a sixteen-year-old girl, Amina El-Filali, after a six-month forced marriage to the man who raped her when she was 15. She killed herself in a northern city in Morocco by swallowing rat poison. "She was raped twice - once by the rapist and the second time by marrying him," said the Communication Minister and government spokesman, Mustafa el-Khalfi.
The "second time" she was raped, however, it was with the complicity of the State. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows the "kidnapper" of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution. This article has therefore been used to make a rapist marry his victim to preserve the honor of the woman's family.
In many Moroccan families where tradition and religion weigh heavily on how one is regarded by the community, loss of virginity outside of marriage is considered a dishonor not only for the girl but for her entire clan. Although a new family law, introduced in 2004, grants Moroccan women more rights than in other Arab countries, some remnants of an archaic mentality still linger. One of these remnants is article 475, which represents an embarrassment to Morocco's international image.
In Morocco, a judge can only recommend marriage in cases where all parties agree. However, human rights activists contend that often pressure is applied to the family of the victim to avoid a scandal for everyone else. Amina's father said that when he denounced his daughter's rape, the same court officials advised him to agree to a forced marriage for her.
Amina's imposed marriage lasted six months; during that period she complained to her family about mistreatment by her husband, but she received no help. Her mother used to tell her that she had to be patient. In the end, she apparently concluded that suicide was the only way out of a terrible life. She did not even have a chance to die in peace. After she drank the poison, her husband became so angry that he dragged her through the street by her hair. A short while later, she died.
In Morocco, cases of rape are frequent, but do not receive much attention in the media. According to a survey conducted last year, almost two-thirds of Moroccan women are subjected to violence in their lifetimes. However, Amina's suicide stirred the indignation of the people and managed to put this problem under the national and international spotlight, and sparked outrage in social networks. Facebook groups such as "We are all Amina Filali" and "RIP Amina" are now calling for the abrogation of the "criminal article." The groups also organized a demonstration in front of the Moroccan Parliament.
Authorities are now compelled to take sides.
The Minister of Women and Family Affairs, Bassima Hakkaoui, the only woman in the present Islamist-led Moroccan government, has acknowledged the existence of a "real problem," and has called for "for a debate to amend the law." Ms. Nouzha Skalli, Hakkaoui's predecessor in the previous government, commented that the "the present law considers a raped minor a criminal, although she is a victim of violence… The penal code must be amended to make it adhere to the Constitution, which establishes absolute equality between sexes."
Unfortunately, the Moroccan Minister of Justice, El Mostafa Ramid, affiliated with the leading Islamist party PJD, seems to think otherwise. In a communiqué in Arabic published in the Ministry's website, the Justice Minister claims that the girl was not raped and that she married the rapist willingly. According to him, apparently, there is no need to reform the penal code, although he admits that the Moroccan justice is investigating the girl's suicide. Until men in government are willing to take firm steps against violations of women's rights, many other Aminas will be raped and die with no one there to hear them.