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Bahrain & all Arab nations must expedite law changes to protect rape victims

Sixteen year-old Aminah Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after she was forced to marry the man who raped her. The Moroccan state prosecutor had reportedly urged the attacker to marry Aminah in return for the charges to be dropped. Aminah’s death in 2012 was widely covered in the Moroccan media and helped create the momentum for changes in the law.

Basma Latifah, a Syrian rape victim living in south Lebanon, was pressured by her family and the community to marry her attacker. She endured the marriage for three years, (the period required by law to avoid prosecution) during which she was regularly beaten and assaulted. After she divorced him, the man visited her family home in June 2017 and shot Basma dead.

In recent days Jordan and Tunisia both took the important step of striking down a clause in their law on rape, excusing the offender from prosecution if he married his victim. Jordan and Tunisia are among the numerous Arab and Muslim states which until recently allowed for such an eventuality.

Such a clause was supposedly designed to prevent the shame of this crime becoming a matter of public knowledge. However, the result was that a loophole existed for rapists to escape punishment (especially given the low conviction rate globally for cases of rape). Meanwhile, the female victim is put in the extraordinary situation of being made to suffer twice; from the attack itself, and then being pressured to marry the man who attacked her. As we can see from the above examples; such involuntary and unnatural marriages are highly likely to end in tragedy.

Even if the woman was reluctant to see the assault becoming the subject of a public court hearing; it is difficult to conceive of any circumstances where a woman would want a lifelong attachment to a man who believes it is acceptable to attack women, and who is responsible for the single most traumatic incident of her life.

Part of the problem is that much of the Islamic world still lives in a culture of victim-shaming, where the crime is at least in part seen to be the fault of the innocent party. Indeed there are rare cases around the world where the victim has subsequently been convicted for adultery. It is not uncommon for rape victims to be rejected by their husbands, family and communities.

Thus it becomes clear that while reforming our laws, we must also aspire to reform our society, to the point where a victim of rape and sexual assault can hold their head high in society knowing that they have done nothing wrong; knowing that they will be fully accepted and supported by a community which is sufficiently mature and open-minded to recognize that victims of sexual violence have nothing to be ashamed of.

In mid-2016 and early 2017 proposals emerged from both houses of Bahrain’s Parliament demanding a change in the law. However, these vital measures have been held up, in part due to the suggestion that a change in the law should apply only in the case of gang rape. In reality, there are no circumstances where an innocent woman should be put in the situation of facing marriage with somebody who attacked her; or where a known rapist can use such a loophole to escape justice.

It is not enough for the law to state that the victim must voluntarily agree to such a marriage; because it is almost impossible for the courts to scrutinize what pressures are exerted on the woman from the privacy of her home and from the community around her. Marriage must be a joyful occasion between two willing adults hoping to share the rest of their lives together. An act of violence and violation can never constitute the foundation of a successful and happy marriage.

Bahrain should ensure that it is on the right side of history by changing these unfair and inhumane laws without delay. With multiple Arab states taking action to rectify these outdated measures, Bahrain should ensure that it retains its position as one of the most progressive and far-sighted nations in the region which respects and defends the rights of all its citizens. It is not sufficient to claim that such cases are unusual; the law defines what sort of nation we aspire to be; while signaling to our citizens the value we place upon our lives, and the protections which their nationality confers upon them.

The law must not be an instrument in ensuring that rape ruins the entire lives of its innocent victims through a travesty of the act of marriage. Let us ensure that we never again see any woman joined in matrimony to a violent and unstable individual who hates women and deserves to be behind bars.

 

 

Progress to ensure justice for rape victims across the Arab & Muslim world

Other countries in the Arab world which still have such laws are Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria and the occupied Palestinian territories.

August 2017: Jordanian MPs voted to scrap Article 308, which enables rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victim. The decision must still be approved by Jordan's upper house and ratified by the king. Article 308 allowed for perpetrators to have rape charges dropped if they married their victim and did not get divorced for at least three years.

July 2017: Tunisia revoked a similar provision in its law concerning rape.

Mid-2017: There has been an ongoing campaign in Lebanon advocating changes in Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code concerning rape. Billboards of a woman in a bloody bridal gown appeared around Beirut saying: “A white dress doesn’t cover up rape.” In February a proposal to repeal Article 522 was approved at parliamentary committee level.

November 2016: The Turkish government proposed pardoning around 3,000 men accused of rape if they married their victims. The plan was scrapped following a massive public outcry.

May 2016: Proposals emerged from both the Shura Council and Council of Representatives in the Bahrain Parliament for modifying clause 353 from the Penal Code to protect rape victims.

2014: Morocco repealed a provision which allowed convicted rapists to evade punishment by marrying their victims.

1999: Egypt led the way in annulling its “rape marriage” laws.

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