Morocco amends controversial rape law

RABAT, Morocco (AP) - Morocco's parliament on Wednesday unanimously amended an article in the penal code that had outraged people by allowing a rapist to escape prosecution if he married his underage victim.

Article 475 of the penal code generated unprecedented public criticism about the case of Amina al-Filali, a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry a man who allegedly had raped her. After seven months of marriage to the 23-year-old man, she committed suicide in 2012. Her parents and a judge had forced the marriage to protect the family honor.

The incident sparked calls for the law to be changed.

The traditional practice for forced marriage can be found across the Middle East and in countries such as India and Afghanistan, where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock puts a huge stain on the honor of the family or tribe.

While the marriage age is officially 18 in Morocco, judges routinely approve much younger unions in this deeply traditional country of 34 million with high illiteracy and poverty.

While Morocco passed a new family code in 2004 that was more progressive concerning women's rights than in the past, efforts to boost women's rights have often run afoul of Islamists.

Activists had called for a wholesale revamping of the country's laws dealing with rape. However, in this case it is just an amendment of the existing article deleting the language allowing the assailant to marry his victim to escape prosecution.

"It is true that this is just a detail compared to all of our demands but it had to be done," said Nezha Aloui, of the Union for Feminist Work. "I salute the mobilization and maturity parliament showed by voting unanimously."

Aloui and other activists are pushing for a law outlawing violence against women.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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