Jordanian women activists applaud abrogation of rape law
The controversial Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which allowed rapists or sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment by marrying their victims, has been abolished by the Lower House of Parliament, marking a victory for women activists.
They have been fighting for years against the "provocative" article that had a negative effect on the lives of many young women.
The abolishment was hailed as a triumph of justice, and is expected to lead to a decrease in sexual violence and abortion. Nearly 140 rape cases were reported in Jordan last year, crimes against morality and public morals increased 22% and abortion crime prosecutions were up 60%, a report by IT Criminal Management Police Department stated.
Wafa Bani Mustafa, chairwoman of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women, which has rallied legislators against Article 308, described the abrogation as “a major win.”
"Definitely, it is a major win for all those girls who were raped and forced to marry their rapists and then were divorced and left to face the society not as victims but as the cause of shame and disgrace to their families,” Bani Mustafa said. “I consider the end of Article 308 as a victory to women and justice."
Marrying their daughters to rapists was the only way to save the family from disgrace. “This allowed rapists to escape prison but, as husbands, they could easily divorce without being punished. It was as simple as that. Now things are different. We want to show women that marrying their rapists is not the only solution," she added.
Article 308 required that rapists remain married to their victims for at least three years. This placed many young women at even greater risk of abuse.
"Women should not concede to the option of marrying their assaulter and the government should assist them by all means as I believe that marriage is not the answer," Bani Mustafa said.
"Article 308 was like an award to the criminal while it did injustice twice to the girl, once through the rape or sexual assault and then by forcing her to marry her aggressor.”
Lebanon followed suit by abolishing Article 522, its version of Jordan’s Article 308, and Iraq is in the process of cancelling a similar provision, Article 398. Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt have already cancelled "marry the rapist" clauses.
Bani Mustafa said she hoped the move would deter potential rapists. "I believe they will think twice before committing their act because all they will get now is prison terms. It is a move forward in favour of women and I think the message is clear,” she said.
Rana Husseini, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, said the move amounted to “correcting something that was wrong.”
“You cannot allow someone who sexually assaulted a woman to live with her and keep on raping her every day," she said. "It will not necessarily deter everyone because not all people understand it but it is always good to see something happening in favour of women. The government has disregarded our demands for a long time and we hope that this will open the way to (correcting) other issues related to women.”
Jordanians were divided over the abrogation of the article, which some said protected women's honour, although a study by the Jordan Civil Coalition showed 70% saying they supported the abolition.
"I cannot believe that there is someone who can live with her rapist because every time they will be together it will look like he is raping her," said Khaled Hawatmeh, 47.
“Reports showed that victims as young as 15 have been forced by their families to marry their rapists and this is a crime itself. Forced marriage is against all laws and religion."
Suha Mehdi, a student, said ending Article 308 was a win for all.
"A rapist is a rapist and cannot be defined in any other way. He cannot be regarded as a victim as many try to place the blame on the girl insinuating that she allowed this to happen. This is absurd and, now that Article 308 is gone, many will think twice about making any assault on women," she said.
In 2016, Jordanian King Abdullah II ordered the founding of a royal committee to reform the judiciary and review the entire penal code, which dates to 1960. The decision to abolish Article 308 must be approved by the parliament's Senate and signed by the king.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.