18 Mar 2012

Moroccan women oppose law that shields rapists

3:31 pm on 18 March 2012

Several hundred women have demonstrated outside Morocco's parliament demanding the repeal of a law that allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim if she is a minor.

A 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, killed herself a week ago after being severely beaten during a forced marriage to her rapist.

The protesters held signs saying "The law has killed Amina".

The BBC's correspondent in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, says Ms Filali's parents were at the protest. They say their daughter was pressured by a local court into marrying her rapist, who then abused her.

She died after swallowing rat poison on 10 March.

Online campaign launched

The case has shocked many in Morocco. Women's rights groups have started an online campaign to have the law - article 475 - repealed and a Facebook page called "We are all Amina Filali" has been set up.

Campaigners are also calling for the rapist and the judge who allowed the marriage to be jailed.

The president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, Fouzia Assouli, says the removal of article 475 would be a step forward in changing conservative attitudes about sex and marriage.

However, the protesters feel let down by the lack of response from the government and are furious at the justice minister, who has not been willing to open an inquiry into Ms Filali's suicide.

Dishonour attaches to victim of rape

Ms Filali came from the small northern town of Larache, near Tangiers.

In poor, conservative rural areas like that, the BBC reports, it is unacceptable for a woman to lose her virginity before marriage - and the dishonour is hers and her family's even if she is raped.

The legal age of marriage in Morocco is 18, unless there are "special circumstances" - which is the reason Ms Filali was married despite being under-age.

A judge can only recommend marriage if all parties involved agree - but activists say pressure is often applied to the victim's family to avoid a scandal.