Family & Kids

Marry Your Rapist Law and Marital Rape: Two names of the same crime

Rape and sexual abuse are the most raging crimes against women throughout the world. Most of the time these crimes are not reported because of the shame and social stigma attached to them. In fact, societal pressure is so heinous that it increases the trauma of the women often leading them to commit suicide. Violent rape has serious impact on women’s sexual and reproductive health on the long run. This pain intensifies more when the victim is compelled to marry her “rapist.”

The inhuman “Marry your rapist laws exists in some Middle Eastern countries like Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, and Syria etc.  By marrying the victim, rapist can escape punishment. The justification given for this “law” is that it protects women’s honor by bringing this illicit sexual contact within the institution of marriage.

Purna Sen, policy director for UN Women, says that “The penal codes in these countries do not approach rape as violence or abuse, but focus more on the idea that sexual contact occurred outside of marriage. It's not been really distinct as rape as force and abuse and violence... So the way to make that respectable is to put it within the institution of marriage."

Often women are forced by their family members to save family’s honour by marrying the abuser as integrity and honor is tied to women’s behaviour, conduct and maintenance of virginity before marriage. This law is often considered as a saviour for the family after the assault as victims are blamed for inviting the attack on themselves. This law leads to victimisation of the victim all over again but nobody pays attention.

However, as a result of the effort of the various non-governmental organisations, UN, human right groups, implementation of CEDAW, this law has been scrapped in some countries. Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have repealed the provisions in their penal code which allowed the rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim.

On 26th July, Tunisia passed a law titled, “Law on Eliminating Violence against Women", which abolished this clause and recognised domestic violence as a punishable crime.

Following Tunisia, the Jordanian Parliament passed a landmark law in this regard. The house voted to abolish a provision in the penal code (Article 308) that allowed rapists to escape punishment (i.e., dropping of the rape charges) if they marry their victims and stay with them for at least three years. This decision now needs the approval of the upper house, Senate, and then ratification by King Abdullah II.

Weeks after Tunisia and Jordan, Lebanaon also repealed Article 522. This dealt with rape, assault, kidnapping and forced marriage. This law states that rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison and more if the victim is mentally or physically disabled. Article 522 added that if the rapist marries the victim, he can escape the punishment. Since 1940s, this law has been a major hindrance to women’s equality. Though Article 522 has been repealed, the effects of this law can be seen in Article 505 and 518. Both these articles allow a person accused of "consensual" sexual relations with a minor to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.
However, if you think that the law is Middle Eastern in origin, then that’s not the case. This law is inspired by French Napoleonic Code of 1810 which allowed a man who kidnapped a girl to escape prosecution if he married her. In fact, France abolished this law only in 1994.

Though its a significant step for women’s equality in the region which is known for its misogynist laws against women as laws help to change the mindset. However, the mere passing of this law is of little use until and unless authorities put a check on the private rape marriage arrangements and provide victims easy access to justice.

This rape-marriage arrangement raises an important question on the legality of “rape within marriage” in India. Its same like Marry your Rapist. Marital rape is a common practise which is often used by the husband to establish himself as a master on his wife. However, its not a criminal offence as the government feels that criminalising marital rape will destabilize the institution of marriage. However, the government is forgetting that by having forced sex with your wife, husband has automatically weakened the sacred institution of marriage.

The author is an assistant professor at Amity University, Noida. She may be contacted at  jyotikateckchandani-at-gmail.com

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