Morocco suicide victim of family and society

By Paul Schemm

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

FOR STORY MOROCCO RAPE OUTRAGE - Lahcen, left, and Zohra Filali, the parents of an alleged rape victim Amina Filali, comfort each other as they stand next to the grave of their daughter, who committed suicide last week, in Khmis Sahel near Larache, northern Morocco, Friday, March 16, 2012. Their daughter Amina Filali took her own life by taking rat poison after being forced to marry the man who allegedly raped her at age 15, and then abused her in marriage. In Morocco, as in many Middle East societies, a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring the honor of his victim and her family, but in the case of Amina Filali, it seems she could not live with her restored honor. The legal system in Morocco supports this honor tradition but activists are pressing for change.

Abdeljalil Bounhar, Associated Press

KHMIS SAHEL, Morocco — Escape for 16-year-old Amina Filali from her abusive marriage came in the form of a pill of rat poison she bought in the market for 60 cents.

Pressured by a conservative rural Moroccan society, a judge and her own mother to marry the man she said had raped her at 15 and then abused her for the rest of her marriage, she could only see one way out: Suicide.

"I had to marry her to him, because I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried," said her mother Zohra in an interview with The Associated Press in their tiny village in northern Morocco, a week after her daughter killed herself.

The Justice Ministry suggests Filali was consenting and not a victim. But her death has called attention to — and prompted outrage over — an article in the penal code absolving the rape of a minor if it is followed by marriage. Activists and social workers are calling for its repeal.

Zohra Filali said she found her daughter being attacked in the forest after hearing she had been waylaid by a man with a knife. She immediately took her daughter to the family home of the man, who was 10 years older, and demanded they marry.

In conservative Middle East societies, a family's honor rests with the women and intercourse outside of wedlock brings a deep shame that can only be remedied with marriage.

The practice dates back to the Old Testament and takes place in conservative or tribal parts in the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan.

In the story told by Amina's parents, it becomes clear that the mother was the primary force behind her daughter's marriage, which was then sanctioned by a judge and the law which permits underage marriages to "resolve" rape cases.

Morocco updated its family code in 2004 in a landmark improvement of the situation of women, but activists say there's still room for improvement.

In cases of rape, the burden of proof is often on the victim and if she can't prove she was attacked, a woman risks being prosecuted for debauchery.

The French version of Article 475 of the 1962 penal code says that the "kidnapper" — a term that can refer to an attacker or rapist — of a minor cannot be prosecuted if he marries his victim. The Arabic version refers to the one who "kidnaps or deceives" a minor.

Whatever the wording, the article is cited in justifying the minor's marriage.

An online petition calling for a change to the law has garnered about 3,500 signatures and a protest was held Thursday in front of the courthouse of the nearby town of Larache.

After at first remaining silent about the case, the Justice Ministry issued a statement Friday saying the judge acted correctly and followed the law in accordance with the wishes of both families and the victim.

"The victim had relations with the man who married her during which she lost her virginity with her consent," said the statement, which did not address concerns about the nature of consent between a 15 and a 25-year-old.

The parents, poor farmers in Morocco's fertile coastal region, maintain Amina was raped. The Associated Press generally doesn't generally identify alleged victims of sexual abuse, but in this case her family agreed that she could be identified.

Amina's husband and his family could not be reached for comment on what happened to her.

When the family of the man at first refused to marry Amina, her mother took her to a doctor to get a medical certificate saying she had been raped.

The doctor informed Zohra that her daughter had lost her virginity earlier and did not confirm that a rape had occurred.

"She finally told me that he had first raped her more than a month ago," the mother said.

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