Amina Filali had already suffered more than any young woman ever should: she was a rape victim at the age of just sixteen. Yet as a Moroccan citizen her anguish did not end there. Outrageously the combination of an arcane law and pressure from court officials meant that instead of seeing her attacker put behind bars, she was forced to marry him. Trapped in this appalling union, Amina was subjected to frequent physical beatings until this week when she took the only route of escape left to her- by taking her own life.
The tragedy has led to an outpouring of anger both online and on the streets of Morocco. In particular protestors are calling for the repeal of Penal Code Article 475 which formally allows a rapist to escape jail by marrying his victim – on the caveat that both parties agree. Clearly, even if a victim were to agree, the prospect of letting proven rapists walk free is still stomach-turning, yet even this ‘protection’ rarely comes into play. Many cases, including Amina’s, involve significant external pressure on the victim to accept a marriage, with little or no room for manoeuvre.
This leaves an ominously grim picture for women’s rights in Morocco, despite the measured reforms of King Mohammed IV which have in recent years included the abolishment of a women's “duty of obedience” to her husband, and an overhaul of divorce law so that property and custody is no longer automatically awarded to the husband.
Welcome though these moves have been, they remain overshadowed by the abhorrent practice of Moroccan rape victims being forced to marry their attackers.
It is long since time that the King, who escaped the turmoil of the Arab Spring, listened to his people and replaced the appalling present legislation with civilised and progressive changes to protect Moroccan women. If he fails in this, he may see much more dissent. And Morocco will see many more Amina Filalis.