Forced marriage to rapists: the death of Amina El Filali

For years, human rights and women's organizations have been demanding reform of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code which allows rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victim. It is time to break the wall of silence about these archaic customs.

Read this article in Arabic.

Morocco is considered one of the leading Arab countries when it comes to working towards establishing a strong respect for and implementation of women’s rights. Its 2004 reforms to the “mudwana” Family Code were heralded as “one of the most progressive laws on women's and family rights in the Arab world”.Yet whilst Morocco has made some significant changes to the Family Code over the past decade, such as restricting polygamy and extending the right to petition for divorce to women, there arestill major gaps in the law. The criminal and family laws in particular are filled with loopholes that facilitate the crime of rape and make it easy for rapists to escape prosecution. The tragic story of Amina El Filali captures the horror facing women and girls who are raped and forced to marry their rapist because of one particularly archaic legal tradition.

Amina El Filali was a 16 year old village girl who lived on the outskirts of Larache city in the north of Morocco. She was from a humble and modest family consisting of her father, his two wives and three girls.

In March this year, Amina El Filali’s family stated on Moroccan and foreign television channels that their daughter was kidnapped at knifepoint from the neighborhood surrounding her school by a man named Mustafa. Mustafa is a young man in his twenties who lived in the same area as Amina El Filali.  

Amina was brought to the woods and kept there for ten days, until her family was tired of searching and looking for her everywhere in the village. On the tenth day, Amina’s mother met one of Mustafa’s friends, named Zuhir, who assured her that her daughter was in the woods with Mustafa.

Amina’s family visited Mustafa’s family hoping to rescue Amina, however Amina made her own way back to her parent’s house after ten days of being absent.

Conflicting statements have been put forward regarding the possibility that Amina may have had an existing relationship with Mustafa at the time of her attack. Amina’s friend assured the media that prior to the rape, Amina was a friend of Mustafa and used to go out with him, and according to a Moroccan television channel, some photos of Mustafa were found in Amina’s parent’s house.

Once she was reunited with her family, Amina visited the doctor who confirmed that she had been raped. Mustafa was sued by Amina El Filali’s family for rape and was condemned to marry Amina by the family court judge.

Article 475 of Moroccan law states that a rapist can escape punishment if he marries his victim. This is called a “Reparations agreement“between the girl’s family and the family of the accused and it requires the blessings of the concerned authorities. It was under this law that Amina was forced to marry her rapist against her will.

Amina spent roughly six months married to Mustafa. During this time she was subjected to repeated physical abuse. She was beaten, deprived of food and insulted by her husband. All of this suffering caused Amina to put an end to her miserable life; she committed suicide by consuming rat poison on 10 March.

Amina’s family told the media that prior to her death, she had told her family that she had not intended to commit suicide, but only wanted to draw people’s attention to the abuse she was receiving from her husband. When Amina felt alone and didn’t find anyone who would listen to her, she went to the local authorities to file a complaint against her husband; but the authorities didn’t take her complaint seriously.

Amina’s suicide was a huge shock to her family and to Moroccan society at large. The manner in which various Moroccan media outlets and social networking sites have addressed Amina’s story has rocked Moroccan public discourse and sparked a reconsideration of the way our nation deals with the crime of rape by putting more focus on the victim rather than the laws. Human rights associations and women's associations have been calling for a reform to Article 475 for years, but in vain.

There are also similar laws in other Arab countries such as Jordan. Article 358 of the Jordanian penal code, for example, similarly exempts the rapist from prosecution if he marries his victim. This explains why May Abou Saman, an active member of the Jordanian Women’s Committee, led a protest against this law. She stated that women are killed twice by the law, once while being raped, second when forced to marry their rapist.

In order to stop this violation of women’s rights we need to deal with the culture of shame as well as reforming the law. In Jordan as in Morocco, it is thought that a raped girl brings shame on her family - and herself - and that no other man would want to marry her. A girl’s family therefore chooses to marry their daughter to her rapist in order to escape shame and save their dignity. In obliging their daughter to marry the rapist they nevertheless fail to consider the dignity and mental state of their daughter; they fail to think about the rights of the victim.

During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, people all over the world need to remember the death of Amina and raise their voices to denounce this law. It is time to think about the victim’s rights and break the wall of silence about these archaic customs.

Read other articles in the series, 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence 2012.