Jordan might end law allowing rapists to marry victims

Jordan might end law allowing rapists to marry victims
The Jordanian government is discussing proposed amendments to the Penal Code to repeal articles that allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying rape victims, but the articles have some support.
3 min read
10 January, 2016
Some Arab rape laws allow rapists to escape unpunished, with victims paying the price [AFP]

Jordan is close to closing a controversial loophole which allows convicted rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims.

Amman began to study Article 308 of the penal code after a petition sent by advocacy group the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI) and the civil coalition.

But even if the government recommends abolishing the article, many hurdles would remain, not least within parliament.

Article 308 allows rapists to escape punishment or legal prosecution if they marry their victims for a minimum of three to five years.

Rapists would otherwise go to jail for seven years. The rape of a child under 15, meanwhile, is punishable by death.

The petition was submitted to the government through  Basil Tarawneh, the government's coordinator on human rights, in mid-December.

It reportedly included the findings of a study highlighting Jordanians' views of the article, in addition to recommended amendments.

Women who are raped in Jordan often face a lot of stigma from family members and their communities, accused of bringing "dishonour" to their families.

In extreme cases women could be murdered as a result in so-called honour crimes.

Honour killings are usually committed by male family members against female family members held to have brought dishonour upon the family, for example by refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, seeking divorce or committing adultery.

Marrying their rapists therefore has traditionally been seen as a way to protect their families' "honour".

Jordanian lawmakers have thus often argued that Article 308 prevents rape victims from being outcasted by society.

Jordan's first female coroner Isra Tawalbeh has said in the past that accepting marriage under Article 308 is "better than leaving girls to be killed by their parents or relatives."

It is up to the family of the rape victim to decide whether to accept the marriage proposal or not, but families oftentimes agree in order to avoid the tarnishing of the victim's reputation.

However, many say the minimum time obligation is seldom enforced, and marriages often end within months. Since there is little to no follow-up by the justice system after a marriage is arranged, rapists regularly go unpunished.

Rape victims in Jordan who conceive during rape are in an even more difficult position as the Civil Status Law does not recognise the newborn as "legitimate" unless there is a legal marriage contract. 

Growing awareness

In recent years a growing number of civil society activists focused on gender equality in the kingdom have fought to abolish the article.

In 2012, Jordanian activists and bloggers organised street protests and circulated an online petition calling the government to eliminate Article 308.

The move followed the rape of a 14-year-old girl for three consecutive days. A 19-year-old man had kidnapped her from the northern city of Zarqa.

According to figures from Jordan's ministry of justice, 159 rapists avoided punishment by marrying their victims from 2010 to 2013.

The ministry recorded 300 rapes annually on average during that period.

In January 2014, Morocco's parliament voted unanimously to amend an article of the penal code - similar to Jordan's Article 308 - after intensive lobbying and protests across the country.

Local and international media had shed light on the rape law in Morocco when 16-year-old Amina al-Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison, after her parents and a judge forced her to marry her rapist.

Egypt, where sexual harrassment is a major problem, also cancelled a similar provision a few years ago.