|© AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar|
|Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.|
By Aniss Maghri
RABAT, Morocco, 28 March 2012 – The death of 16-year-old Amina Filali, in the old port town of Larache, Morocco, has prompted outrage around the world.
Amina’s life was shattered by a double tragedy: She was raped at age 15, and then, after reporting the assault, she was forced to marry her rapist. After five months of marriage, during which she endured repeated beatings, Amina committed suicide by ingesting rat poison.
Protests have since erupted, demanding justice for Amina – and better protections for all children.
Call to abolish the penal code
Amina’s case sheds light on persistent barriers to justice for child victims of sexual violence, child marriage and exploitation.
Amina married her rapist as a result of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code, a law allowing rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims. In parts of Morocco, as well as many areas of the world, girls or women who have sex outside of marriage – even if they are victims of rape or other gender-based violence – are considered ‘dishonoured’ and their families are shamed. Marriage is seen as a way to remedy this dishonor.
Marriage is permitted under Article 475 only if all parties agree, but activists say victims are often pressured to accept. Although the legal age of marriage in Morocco is 18, dispensation was granted for Amina because her rape was considered a special circumstance.
There are now calls for the abolition of Article 475. According to Malika El Atifi, Head of Child Protection at UNICEF Morocco, UNICEF has been conducting substantive work on this issue for several years. “A comparative analysis of the legislation, led by the Ministry of Justice, with the support of UNICEF and UNFPA [the UN Population Fund], identified Article 475 as being unfavorable to the protection of children’s and women’s rights, as it encourages rapists to escape the requirements of the law,” Ms. El Atifi said.
Implementing the CRC
Amina’s case also draws attention to the need for better implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the first international treaty legally requiring state parties to guarantee children the full range of human rights. Morocco ratified the CRC in 1993.
Article 19 of the CRC requires that states “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence,” and Article 34 enjoins signatories to protect children from “all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” The CRC also requires that all legal and administrative authorities protect childen’s right to be heard. Activists are now asking: Was Amina allowed to freely express her will during the judicial hearing?
The Ministry of Justice report stresses the need for strengthened protections for victims of sexual assault, and calls for the enforcement of penalties against perpetrators of sexual violence.
“This report received all the attention of the legal experts in the Ministry of Justice and proposed amendments to the penal code,” said UNICEF Representative in Morocco Aloys Kamuragiye. As a result of this tragedy, the Government of Morocco is undertaking efforts to close the gap between domestic practices and the country’s international commitments to children’s and women’s rights.
But Mr. Kamuragiye noted that these efforts should involve all partners, including those at local levels. And long-term actions, including communication programmes to encourage positive behaviors and discourage harmful social norms, will be essential to protecting children in the future.