Lebanon’s parliament abolished on Wednesday a law that absolves rapists if they marry their victims, joining other Arab states that have repealed “marry-your-rapist” laws in recent weeks. Lawmaker Elie Kayrouz, who backed ending the law – article 522 of the penal code – said other clauses also required a change to protect women and children. Still, “at the end of the day, this represents a positive development in Lebanon’s legislation,” he told Reuters.
Marital rape and child marriage remain legal in Lebanon. Jordan abolished a similar marriage loophole this month, and Tunisia passed a law in July to protect women against violence which included scrapping a similar clause. Egypt abolished its law in 1999, and Morocco repealed it in 2014 after the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the attempted suicide of a 15-year-old forced to marry their rapists.
Even so, rapists can escape punishment by marrying their victims in nations including Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, the Philippines and Tajikistan, according to the global campaign group Equality Now. The UN says a third of women worldwide have suffered sexual or physical violence, and one in 10 girls have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Today, we want to congratulate the women of Lebanon
said lawyer Danielle Howayek, from the Beirut-based women’s rights group Abaad.
Howayek said there was still a long way to go for Lebanese law to protect women, but getting rid of the “marry-your-rapist” provision – which dates back to 1943 – marked a major step.
“Today, it should be clear to everyone that there is no room for avoiding the penalty for rape, and for any sexual act by force or under duress,” she added. Abaad has lobbied against the law for months, plastering the streets with billboards of women in bloodied and torn bridal gowns. “A white dress doesn’t cover up rape,” the images say. In April, activists hung battered white dresses from nooses on Beirut’s popular seafront.
Justice Minister Salim Jrayssati said he would consult women’s rights groups to “see if there’s a need for other or more amendments”. Lebanon’s parliament passed a long-awaited law in 2014 penalizing domestic violence for the first time. But activists were outraged that authorities had watered it down and that it fell short of criminalising marital rape.