Bahrain’s Parliament has voted to abolish a law that exempts rapists from punishment if they marry their victims, joining other countries in the region in reforming such legislation.
Under Article 353 of Bahrain’s penal code, those who committed rape or sexual assault were able to avoid punishment if they married their victim. This week, however, Bahrain’s Shura Council – its Upper House of Parliament – unanimously voted to remove that law in a landmark reform in the country’s legal system.
During the weekly session of Parliament, Nawaf Al Maawada, Bahraini Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, stated that “rapists will not escape punishment. Bahrain is a country with a traditional Muslim culture with respect offered to many religions”. He added that “Governments need to study and update legislation as society and cultures evolve.”
The move makes Bahrain the latest country in the Middle East and North Africa region to abolish laws that have long controversially allowed rapists to avoid prosecution by simply pledging to marry their victims. It follows on from other such as Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia which did away with similar laws back in 2017.
According to the Emirati news outlet, The National, the vote was welcomed by numerous Bahraini political figures and women’s rights activists who had campaigned for years to scrap or amend the legislation.
Nancy Khedouri – a Shura Council member and part of the foreign affairs, defence and national security committee which oversaw the bill to abolish the law – told the outlet that it “came as an imperative necessity because it did not address the issue of rape and did not provide adequate protection for women from this crime but, on the contrary, it protected the rapist and rewarded him for his crime by marrying the victim, without taking into account her psychological status and the status of her family in society”.
She added that “It made those who are victims of the crime of rape in a worse situation than those who commit the crime, where a marriage resulting from a rape would allow a quick escape for the rapist from being lawfully penalised”.
Khaled El Mekwad, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator in Bahrain, was also quoted as saying that “this landmark legislative reform will increase the protection of the fundamental rights of women and girls in Bahrain.”