After years of campaigning by women’s rights activists, on 1 August, the lower house of Jordan’s parliament voted for the full repeal of Article 308 without exception, meaning that there should no longer be a way for a rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim.
Women’s and human rights organizations have worked alongside Jordanian Parliamentarians for years to bring about change to the law, and are hailing the repeal of Article 308 as an important step forward in the global movement to hold rapists accountable for their crimes.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, who lives in Jordan and is a Middle East consultant for international women’s rights organisation Equality Now, says: “I am so delighted that finally, the Jordanian lower house of Parliament has approved the full repeal of Article 308 of the Penal Code so that rapists and other sexual abuser who marry their victims will no longer enjoy impunity for their crimes, no matter what the age of their victim.”
“In the face of years-long opposition, I feel like we are living in a historic moment. Now all that remains is for the Senate to give their seal of approval, and we hope there is the political will for it to be endorsed without any further opposition.”
Article 308 provides a legal loophole for perpetrators to avoid prison by marrying their victims for a minimum of five years. The law stems from the belief that marriage reduces the social stigma faced by women and girls who have been raped and preserves “the honor and dignity” of the victim’s family.
However campaigners have argued that in reality the victim faces further trauma and a lifetime of sexual violence and domestic abuse at the hands of her attacker.
Abu-Dayyeh explains: “Today in many Arab countries, cultural traditions continue to place a big emphasis on controlling women and girl’s sexuality. A girl is expected to be a virgin when she gets married so anything that affects her virginity is seen as a source of shame. Some still believe it is better for someone who has been raped to marry her attacker because nobody else will want her. These cultural traditions place a heavy burden on the victim and put pressure on her to ‘agree’.”
“When a man is allowed to marry his victim, the circle of abuse can continue with further emotional trauma, attacks and neglect. She will be more exposed to domestic violence and sexual assaults, and is likely to have restricted movement and a lack of power in decision making. Meanwhile the man is rewarded rather than punished for his actions.”
Some countries in the MENA region have already closed their own rape-marriage loopholes. Tunisia overturned an article at the end of July, and Morocco amended its law in 2014 following public outcry over the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist. Egypt ended legal impunity for rapists in 1999.
However, other countries in the region, including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, have yet to repeal their versions of the law, which are generally alike and originate from the old colonial Ottman and French laws that were introduced.
“Jordan is now setting a very good example for other countries in the region that still have these discriminatory legal provisions,” says Abu-Dayyeh.
“I hope that Lebanon, which is discussing amending or abolishing a similar provision, will follow soon by fully revoking its own Article 522 of the Penal Code, so that finally no rapist in the country will be able to escape punishment by marrying their victim, no matter what the circumstance.”