Many Arab countries have legal provisions that allow men accused or convicted of rape to avoid punishment.
Often called “marry your rapist” laws, these provisions generally state that a rapist will not be prosecuted if he marries his victim. Proponents believe that these laws protect women from stigmas surrounding rape.
However, most people—including some Arab leaders—view them as a major human rights violation.
The specific “marry your rapist” provisions are generally found in cultures where a woman’s chastity is tied to the honor of her family. They are not isolated to the Muslim world, although some interpretations of Islamic law and social attitudes make them more common there.
In most of these countries, rape is significantly underreported and often considered to be the victim’s fault as much as the perpetrator’s. Individual countries’ criminal codes often reinforce this belief.
Some countries have provisions that require a woman to prove she was raped by having multiple male witnesses. Even more egregious, a woman can actually face charges for illicit sex even if it was proven that the act took place against her will.
In other countries, someone who rapes a child can avoid punishment by marrying the victim.
Despite these antiquated attitudes, Arab countries are increasingly re-examining their criminal codes, repealing the “marry your rapist” laws, and in some cases instituting harsher penalties for perpetrators.
This is largely due to internal social pressure. For example, Bahrain is currently considering removing its “rape clause” and introducing stricter punishments against rapists.
Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia have all repealed their versions of the law. Jordan and Lebanon are now the latest Arab countries to follow this growing trend.
Jordan, a pro-Western but socially conservative kingdom, debated the repeal of its marriage rape law—Article 308—for four years.
Wafa Bani Mustafa, a female member of Parliament, first proposed the abolition of Article 308 in December 2013. Her proposal ignited a campaign in the private sector that reached every district in the country.
Well-known academics, journalists, and activists all took part in the effort to repeal Article 308. Their work came to fruition when Jordan finally abolished the law in August.
The Lebanese Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice announced in December 2016 that Lebanon would move to abolish its version of the “marry your rapist” law, Article 522. Prime Minister Saad Hariri also expressed his support of repeal.
Not long after the announcement, Abaad MENA, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization, launched its official campaign, “A White Dress Doesn’t Cover the Rape.” Abaad MENA sought to raise awareness about the physical and psychological trauma that victims experience when they are forced to marry their rapist.
The Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice approved a proposed repeal of Article 522 in February. On Aug. 16, Lebanon officially abolished the law.
While there is still progress to be made regarding women’s legal protections, Jordan and Lebanon have taken a significant step forward in repealing and reforming their rape laws.
As public opinion evolves, more countries will be pressured to re-examine their criminal codes. Many, including Mustafa, remain hopeful. She believes that civil society will continue to play a key role in pressuring governments to change the law.
While social attitudes may evolve more slowly, legal change is a good first step.