Lebanon repeals controversial ‘marry the rapist’ law

‘Overdue’ move welcomed to scrap 1940s law allowing rapists avoid prosecution through marriage

A veiled woman sits  on a bench near an installation of wedding dresses by Lebanese artist Mireille Honein and Abaad activist organisation  at Beirut’s corniche in April. The installation was a criticism of Lebanon’s law allowing rapists who married their victims to go free. Photograph:   Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

A veiled woman sits on a bench near an installation of wedding dresses by Lebanese artist Mireille Honein and Abaad activist organisation at Beirut’s corniche in April. The installation was a criticism of Lebanon’s law allowing rapists who married their victims to go free. Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Lebanese parliament has repealed a controversial 1940s law permitting rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims. Article 522 of the penal code, dealing with rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage, was scrapped after a vigorous campaign by women.

They argued the law violated women’s rights twice by forcing them to suffer rape and then become trapped in bondage to rapists. Minister for women’s affairs Jean Oghassabian called the law a measure “from the Stone Age”.

“It is no longer possible to escape punishment for rape and sexual acts carried out by force and coercion,” said the activist organisation Abaad, which championed the repeal campaign. Abaad founder Danielle Hoyek said: “We should be sending a clear message to Lebanese public opinion, especially women and girls, that any sexual violence and rape will be punishable from now on.”

As pressure built up for repeal, activists put up billboards depicting bandaged girls in bloodied wedding dresses, and they strung from nooses 31 wedding dresses between palm trees along Beirut’s seafront boulevard.

While there are no figures on the number of rapists who have escaped imprisonment under the law, the practice occurred mainly in rural areas and often involved kidnapping and raping victims with the intention of marrying them. Lebanese law provides for up to seven years’ imprisonment for rape.

Human Rights Watch researcher Bassam Khawaja said the move was an “overdue step to protect women’s rights. Parliament should now follow this up by passing pending legislation to end child marriage and marital rape, both of which are still legal in Lebanon. ” Lebanon is considered the most liberal Arab state.

Other countries

The Lebanese parliament’s vote came two weeks after Jordan repealed a similar law, following Morocco and Tunisia. “Marry the rapist” legislation remains in force in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Tajikistan, the Philippines and several countries in Latin America, said Human Right Watch.

The practice was sanctioned by the Old Testament and patriarchal laws in Medieval Europe, the Ottoman Empire and British and French colonial territories. Such laws were on the books in Italy until 1981 and France until 1994.

Last year the Turkish parliament shelved a law proposed by fundamentalist president Recep Tayyip Erdogan allowing men who had sexual relations with girls under 18 to go free if they married their victims. The proposal created uproar after the country’s supreme court abolished a law that classified as abuse all sexual acts with children under 15.

Conservatives who support “marriage for rapists” legislation contend marriage protects the honour of a woman and her family, which depends on female chastity. In the West, the practice is called “shotgun marriage”.

The alternative can be honour killing. Girls and women who are raped, engage in premarital sex or are accused of consorting with or even speaking to men can be killed by fathers, brothers or other family members. Honour killings, which are not confined to one religion or region, often result in light prison sentences.