Lawmaker who changed Jordan’s rape law takes on child marriage

Women take a "selfie" in Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 February 2019
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Lawmaker who changed Jordan’s rape law takes on child marriage

  • In 2017 Jordan’s parliament voted to abolish a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims after a years-long campaign led by Bani Mustafa

BEIRUT: A Jordanian lawmaker praised for her role in abolishing a law that let rapists off the hook if they married their victims has set tackling child marriage as her next challenge.
Nearly 10,500 girls in Jordan were married before reaching their 18th birthdays in 2017, according to the most up to date figures from the UN children’s agency UNICEF.
Girls in Jordan can be married from age 15 with a judge’s approval, even though the legal marriageable age is 18. Lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa said that even raising it to 16 would reduce the numbers.
“This is not an exception. This is something that is happening every day, and too many young girls are getting married,” the 39-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a recent visit to Beirut.
“I am very optimistic child marriage will decrease if we change the age to 16. It doesn’t matter if they are Jordanian or Syrian — we need to protect all girls.”
A significant proportion are believed to be Syrian girls after an influx of refugees from Jordan’s war-ravaged neighbor, with families marrying off daughters young to give them financial security and protection from sexual violence.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled their homeland since the war started in 2011 and there are now more than 670,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan according to the United Nations.
“If you are not old enough to vote or drive a car — how can you open a house and build a family,” said Bani Mustafa, one of only 20 women in Jordan’s 130-seat House of Representatives.
“We need to first change the culture by raising the age of exceptions to 16 — then slowly maybe this will be the first step to making it to 18 with no exceptions.”
In 2017 Jordan’s parliament voted to abolish a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims after a years-long campaign led by Bani Mustafa.
Now she is seeking a change to a section of the law governing inheritance, arguing that it disadvantages women.
As things stand, the children of a father who dies before his own parents will inherit the assets he would have received had he survived them, while the children of a mother who dies before her parents will not.
“If we push changing women’s rights through law it will change the culture of the society to accept women’s rights. The law helps change our society’s mentality,” she said.
Globally, 12 million girls marry before age 18 every year, according to Girls Not Brides, a coalition working to end child marriage.
In Jordan, Bani Mustafa said there were legal provisions to protect child brides — including a maximum 15-year age gap and the requirement that they be allowed to continue their education — but they were not being adhered to.
“I will keep fighting for Jordanian women — nothing will slow me down. We deserve better lives and equal rights to men. It is not easy, but we have to keep fighting,” she said.
“I think women’s rights are slowly changing in Jordan.”


Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

Updated 18 June 2019
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Bouteflika-era tycoon jailed for six months in Algeria

  • Ali Haddad was earlier arrested in possession of two passports
  • Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire

ALGIERS: Algeria’s top businessman Ali Haddad, a key supporter of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was jailed for six months on Monday for holding two passports, in the first conviction in a string of corruption probes.

The business tycoon was arrested in late March on the border with Tunisia in possession of two passports and undeclared currency, days before Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests.

Haddad, who owns Algeria’s largest private construction company, is the first high-profile figure with ties to Bouteflika to be jailed since the president stepped down on April 2 after two decades in power. He was found guilty of the “unjustified procurement of administrative documents” and also fined 50,000 dinars ($420), state television reported.

Described by Forbes as one of Algeria’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Haddad is widely perceived to have used his links to Bouteflika to build his business empire.

The businessman, a key election campaign funder for Bouteflika, had denied breaking the law and said he obtained his second passport legally after seeking an interview with then-Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

The ex-premier and Haddad are among many businessmen and former politicians caught up in a separate anti-corruption investigation launched since the president stepped down.

Earlier this month Haddad’s lawyer, Khaled Bourayou, decried a “political trial” and told journalists the passport case had no legal basis.

The sentence is significantly lower than the 18 months term and fine of 100,000 dinars requested by the prosecutor.

Hassane Boualem, then-director of titles and secure documents at the Interior Ministry, was given a two-month suspended sentence and fined 20,000 dinars for issuing Haddad’s second passport in 2016.

He told the court he was following the orders of his superiors — Interior Ministry head Hocine Mazouz, Sellal and Algeria’s current premier, Noureddine Bedoui — who were not investigated over the affair.

Last week, a judge placed in detention two former prime ministers, Sellal as well as Ahmed Ouyahia, who served four terms as premier.

An investigating magistrate on Sunday conditionally released former Finance Minister Karim Djoudi as part of the corruption probes. Karim Djoudi, finance minister between 2007 and 2014, appeared before the supreme court’s magistrate in connection with the disappearance of public funds and abuse of office.

The supreme court is the only judicial body with jurisdiction over offenses committed in public office by government members, local officials and high magistrates.

Former Transport Minister Amar Tou was also conditionally released after appearing before the investigating magistrate.

Djoudi and Tou are among 12 former Algerian officials subject to preliminary probes for alleged criminal offenses.

Former Trade Minister Amara Benyounes has been detained in El Harrach prison, in an eastern suburb of Algiers, and former Public Works Minister Abdelghani Zaalane has been conditionally released.

Army chief General Gaid Salah, the key powerbroker in post-Bouteflika Algeria, vowed Monday that no one would be spared from the corruption probes.

The judiciary must “bring to justice all the corrupt regardless of their function or their social rank,” he said. “The fight against corruption knows no limit and no exception will be made to anyone... it’s time to settle accounts,” Salah said, adding it was “time to clean up our country.”

The graft probes have also seen a dozen Bouteflika-linked businessmen placed in preventative detention.

Demonstrations have continued since the ailing head of state stepped down, as protesters demand the fall of regime insiders and the establishment of independent institutions.