By Fatima Mohie-Eldin
On August 1, the lower house of Jordan’s parliament voted to revoke Article 308 of the country’s penal code, which contained a provision allowing rapists to evade criminal prosecution by marrying their victims for at least three years.
The move makes Jordan the latest country in the Middle East and North Africa to abolish marry-your-rapist laws that have persisted for decades.
The decision to abolish Article 308 has been widely praised, especially by feminist organizations and activists. When first announced in Jordan, the vote was even met with cheers from spectators who had attending the Parliamentary hearing. Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East expert for the women’s rights group Equality Now, called it “a historical moment,” according to the New York Times. Abu-Dayyeh’s proclamation is especially pertinent considering the years of work it has taken to reach this point.
In the past, some Jordanian lawmakers had actually defended Article 308, claiming that the article’s allowance for marriage actually prevented victims from being ostracized by society and deterred potential honor killings. According to statistics released by Jordan’s ministry of justice, however, this legislation protected 159 rapists between 2010 and 2013.
Jordanian MP and women’s rights champion Wafa Bani Mustafa was the first to propose an end to the provision back in 2013. At that time, however, it was difficult to garner much support as a new government came into power, and it took time to build up a movement pushing for an end to the provision, as Bani Mustafa recently told Al Jazeera.
After years of campaigning and petitioning for gender equality, a coalition of civil society activists, academics, and journalists finally urged the government to look into repealing the article in 2016, before voting to abolish it this year.
On a regional scale, Jordan’s decision to repeal Article 308 is representative of a relatively new movement across the Middle East, advocating for antiquated marry-your-rapist laws to be revoked in several different countries.
As the New York Times reported, for instance, “the Moroccan Parliament voted unanimously,” in 2014, “to amend a law that allows a man convicted of statutory rape to escape punishment if he marries his under-age victim.” The decision was prompted by the highly publicized suicide of sixteen-year-old Amina Filali in 2012, after she was forced to marry her rapist.
Bahrain’s Parliament voted last year to repeal a similar law, while Tunisia more recently passed a bill designed to end all violence against women on July 26, including the removal of an article allowing rapists to marry their victims.
Lebanese activists are also hoping the parliament will abolish similar laws in the near future, after the government indicated its support for an end to legislation allowing rapists to marry their victims. Egypt revoked a similar provision in 1999.
In every instance, these gains have been hard-won after countless cases of girls and women being forced into marriages with their abusers, throughout which the abuse only continues.
While several countries have begun making these positive developments to advance and protect women’s rights, more work is still needed, however. Laws allowing rapists to marry their victims have been upheld for decades, meaning that social stigmas surrounding rape victims still persist.
As Bani Mustafa noted in conversation with Al Jazeera, however, “changing the legislation is a vital part of changing society.” She hopes that with an end to the state of impunity for rapists, victims will finally be able to seek justice.
Fatima Mohie-Eldin is co-editor for Muftah’s Egypt and North Africa pages. She has had excerpts of her research published in Muftah and in Boston College’s Al Noor Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Fatima served as the Managing Editor for the IR Review at Boston University.