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The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has today, at the UN Human Rights Council, called for the abolition of laws that allow men to rape girls and women to escape conviction by subsequently marrying the victim.

Women in Lebanon protesting the law allowing marriage to protect a rapist from prosecution

During a discussion of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, IHEU representative, Kacem El Ghazzali (on behalf of IHEU Director of Advocacy Elizabeth O’Casey) highlighted laws that allow men who have raped women and (underage) girls to evade criminal charges by marrying them.

Rapists in countries such Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Syria, and Tunisia can do this because of variations on laws that allow marriage to the victim to halt proceedings against the rapist, and where marital rape is not defined as a crime – indeed, it is not even defined as rape.

The statement points out, that: “Perversely, these laws have been presented as a protection for girls and women; based on an idea of ‘honour’ defined by chastity. Where, if a girl or woman loses her virginity, even by rape, she loses her honour and the only ‘remedy’ is for her to marry her rapist.”

The IHEU outlined a need for change in culture and societal norms in conjunction with legal reform.

In the developing world, one in nine girls and women are married under age 15. As the United Nations Population Fund has pointed out, “Girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.” This is combined with the fact that the girls and women in question have been raped by the man that then marries them, and he is not charged for his crime against them.

Bahrain, Lebanon, and Tunisia, are all undergoing a review of their laws with a view to changing them to no longer allow marriage as an excuse not to be prosecuted for rape. A number of countries around the world that have made similar reforms, including Morocco (2014), Costa Rica (2007), Uruguay (2006), Romania (2000), Egypt (1999) Peru (1998), France (1994), and Italy (1981).

The statement follows in full below:


 ORAL STATEMENT
International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 34th Session (27th February – 31st March 2017)
General Debate on Item 8
Kacem El Ghazalli

 

The Vienna Declaration emphasis that the “human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.” (§18)

Not so, it seems in countries such as Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Syria, and Tunisia where the law allows rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims (whilst Lebanon, Jordan, and Bahrain have a similar laws, they are in the process of repealing them). Yes, not only are the rapists not prosecuted for their crime, but they are permitted another one: long-term abuse against their victim by subjecting her to a forced marriage.

[In December last year, a man in his 20s married his 13-year-old step-sister after raping her and getting her pregnant. In Malaysia one case recorded involved a girl aged 12.]

Perversely, the laws have been presented as a protection for girls and women; based on an idea of ‘honour’ defined by chastity. Where, if a girl or woman loses her virginity, even by rape, she loses her honour and the only ‘remedy’ is for her to marry her rapist.

Plainly, not only do the laws have to change, but this concept of ‘honour’ that underpins them, and the cultural and social attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual violence rather than supporting them and punishing their attackers.

[The Vienna Declaration urges the strengthening of national and international mechanisms and programmes “for the defence and protection of children”, including “sexually exploited children.” (§21)] We call on the Council to raise this issue of marriage being used legally to absolve a rapist of his crime, and urge the concerned countries to amend their laws accordingly, as well as criminalize sexual assault and rape, including by spouses.

 

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