In August 2017, Jordan banned a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. This was hot on the heels of Tunisia that repealed this law at the end of July, while Morocco overhauled its law in 2014 and Egypt repealed its law in 1999. It is likely that Lebanon maybe next to follow. This law was based on the belief that marriage lessens the stigma associated with rape, but it did not however consider the physical and emotional damage the victim will have to live with during this marriage: it does not consider the welfare of the victim. Women’s rights organisations around the world have celebrated these developments in the Middle East, as it is recognition that the efforts made for gender equality are bearing fruit.
This law is not an uncommon practice in other parts of the world. It may not necessarily be a law, but rapists have been and continue to be encouraged either by families, police or judicial officers to marry the victim and avoid prosecution. A recent case was reported in Zimbabwe where a grandmother forced a man to marry her 17 year old granddaughter after he raped her repeatedly, sometimes at gunpoint. The grandmother was driven by the desire for money. This is not an isolated case.
Many cases of ‘child marriage’ are a result of this practice. The reasoning behind the law was to preserve the dignity of the family, as, although she was raped and therefore diminished her chances of getting married as virgin, the rapist had the decency to marry her. The stigma of rape is somehow reduced. Why is the dignity of the family more important than the safety of the victim? This sends a message that a woman’s worth is much less than that of a man.
My problem with this is that rape is sexual intercourse without consent, and, if one doesn’t give consent, it means there is a certain level of violence for the rapist to get what he wants. What then gives another person, be it the parents or guardians, police or magistrate, the nerve to subject another to a life of this violence? Instead of taking the victim out of the dangerous situation, they are forced into a lifetime of it. There is no other crime where a victim has to be condemned to live with their perpetrator.
According to the narrow definition of rape, as it is in our Zimbabwe law, it is the only crime that can be perpetrated by a man against woman; biology plays a big part of this definition. Many arguments have been brought about why men rape; they have a high sex drive and no self control, particularly in the company of a woman dressed provocatively; or they are not mentally stable, amongst others. To me, rape is about power, a man’s power over a woman’s body. This is perpetuated by allowing a man to marry his victim:, this is sentencing the woman to a life time of being controlled, having a lack of choice of anything and everything that she does in her life, and gives this control to the husband. At the same time, it is providing the man ample opportunity to continue the abuse under the cloak of marriage. A victim of rape requires rehabilitation, which should be provided by the state and support for her recovery from her family.
Although the laws around the world appear to be changing, we must acknowledge that ending the practice is a much more difficult exercise: our customs, culture and beliefs need to fall in line with law. Strict implementation of the law is required not only in Jordan but across the world particularly to protect women and girls.