CAIRO - Permitting marriage at young age in case of rape, Morocco's marriage law has put the country's recently elected Islamist government in hot water, following demands for amendments from women's groups, human rights organizations and left-wing politicians.
Little girls raped in their village it happens all the time, Khadija Ryadi, head of the Moroccan Human Rights Association in Rabat, the capital, told The Washington Post on Monday, April 16.
But it was important this time, because everyone is waiting to see what the reaction of an Islamic government will be.
The uproar started when Amina el-Filali, a recently married young Moroccan peasant girl, committed suicide to end her life.
Getting involved in unlawful relationship with Mustapha el-Hallaq, a 23-year-old unemployed laborer, the families of the couple agreed on marriage to save their reputation.
Though the family code, or mudawana, sets 18 as the legal age for marriage for both sexes, it provides for exceptions to be decided by judges on the basis of special legal and social circumstances, including cases of adultery.
In practice, the Justice Ministry estimates the number of such exceptions at about 35,000 a year.
After getting married, Amina took her life on March 10, to become a national cause, an icon for women's groups, human rights organizations and left-wing politicians.
The uproar set off by Amina's case has led to an effervescent Internet reaction in Morocco, with demands for immediate change, including a Facebook site named We are all Amina and a deluge of tweets repeating the slogan.
Anti-rape demonstrations have been staged in the largest cities, attended mainly by women.
The UN office in Morocco declared that marriage laws should be modernized, and the left-wing Socialist Union of Popular Forces party has petitioned for a parliamentary investigation mandated to recommend amendments.
As the law under attack was based on Islamic jurisprudence and Moroccan tradition, the demands for change presented an unwelcome challenge to Morocco's new Islamist government, which was elected in November.
Article 475 [of the panel code] is unlikely to be abrogated from one day to the next under pressure from international public opinion, Bassima Hakkaoui, family affairs minister, told Moroccan journalists.
Hakkaoui said a change in the early-marriage provisions, contained in Article 475 of the penal code, was not on her agenda.
Sometimes marriage of the raped woman to her rapist does not bring real harm, she added.
Hisham Mellati, penal-law attachÃ© of the justice and liberties minister, said that police investigations, citing neighbors, showed that Amina and Hallaq had been involved in unlawful relation for months.
The judge sat alone with Amina to ensure she was not being pressured to accept the marriage.
Therefore, on the basis of the investigation and Amina's testimony, judges concluded that the sexual relations were consensual and that Amina was a willing partner in the marriage.
Otherwise, if the relations between a young girl and an older man are consensual, there can be a crime classified as leading a minor astray, which is roughly parallel to statutory rape.
The law was strictly followed, Mellati said.
But Mellati confirmed that a possible amendment for the law was being checked by the Justice Ministry, which has been studying an overhaul of the entire penal code, which dates to 1962.
As for Article 475, which decides on Amena's case, it will be judged according to the same criteria as other laws and amended if Moroccan society wants it, he added.
Islam takes a firm and decisive stance against adultery by prohibiting it as well as closing all the avenues and means leading to it.