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After Jordan, Lebanon repeals ‘marry the rapist’ law

Lebanese lawmakers attend a Parliament session in Beirut in this file photo. (AP)
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament has abolished a controversial article that allowed rapists to escape prison by marrying their victims.
Wednesday’s move by the legislature follows years of campaigning against articles dealing with violence against women. The law had been in place since the late 1940s.
The Lebanese law stated that rapists are punishable by up to seven years in prison. If the rape victim is a person with a special need, physical or mental, the penalty was increased. Article 522 added that if the violator marries his victim, criminal prosecution is suspended.
Supporters of the law in socially conservative areas of the country argued that the marriage would salvage the honor of the woman and her family.
Earlier in August, Jordan’s Parliament repealed a similar law.
Cheers and applause erupted from a packed spectators’ gallery as Jordanian legislators voted for repeal, following an emotional debate in which some of the lawmakers jumped up and yelled at each other.
The vote was hailed as a major step forward for women in the country.
“This is a victory for the women’s movement and human rights movement in Jordan,” said Salma Nims, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.
Despite the country’s pro-Western political orientation and cosmopolitan urban elites, many areas of Jordan remain socially conservative, with entrenched notions of “family honor.”
This includes the belief that having a rape victim in the family is shameful, and that such “shame” can be expunged through marriage.
During the debate, some lawmakers had argued that an amended version of Article 308 was needed to protect rape victims against social stigma by giving them the marriage option.
In the end, lawmakers voted in line with the recommendations of the government and a royal committee on legal reforms. Prime Minister Hani Mulki addressed the plenum before the vote, saying the government backs repeal.
Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt have already canceled their “marry the rapist” clauses over the years.
The clause remains on the books in several other countries in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as in the Philippines and Tajikistan, HRW said.
Earlier, the New York-based watchdog said that Jordan’s scrapping of Article 308 “would be a positive step to strengthen the rule of law and end impunity for violence against women.”
Dima Barakat, a leading activist, said that those forcing a girl to marry her rapist “are killing this girl a thousand times a day, at least.”
The attacker “took away her dignity, her honor and took away her life,” Barakat said.
Ahead of the vote, several dozen activists rallied outside the Parliament in Amman, calling for repeal. They held up banners reading “Article 308 is a disgrace to the Jordanian justice system” and “Article 308 does not protect honor, it protects the culprit.”
The need for such “protection” indicates a fundamental problem in how Jordanian law and society perceive women, said Eva Abu Halaweh, executive manager of Mizan for Law, a human rights group.
Earlier this week, Jordan’s Parliament took another step toward legal reform, closing a loophole that had given courts the discretion to impose sentences of as little as six months on those who killed female relatives in the name of “family honor.”
Under the new amendment, killing “in a fit of rage” can no longer be considered a mitigating circumstance in such cases.

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