In Jordan, perpetrators of sexual assault have long had available a unique method to escape punishment: marrying their victim.
But Jordan’s Cabinet moved to scrap that legislative loophole Sunday, endorsing the removal of a penal code article that currently drops all charges against rapists who marry their victim for a statutory minimum of three years.
“It’s 2017. How can a rapist be allowed to go free and at the same time make a girl or a woman’s life living hell?” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a consultant for the feminist campaign group Equality Now in the Middle East and North Africa region, told the Independent last month after Jordan’s Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law first recommended getting rid of the law in February.
That recommendation, activist Laila Naffa told the Jordan Times at the time, was “a Jordanian dream that has come true.”
Last year, Jordanian lawmakers also narrowed the law to apply only if the victim was between 15 and 18 years old, and if the assault was regarded as “consensual.” The law was kept, officials said at the time, in order to prevent victims from being harmed by their own families if they refused to marry their rapist.
Jordan is far from the only country to have such a law. A parliamentary panel in Bahrain recently agreed to remove a similar article from the country’s penal code, but Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia all still offered similar loopholes as of December 2016, according to Human Rights Watch. On Saturday, Lebanese activists protested their country’s version of the law by hanging wedding dresses from nooses alongside a Beirut beach.
The Cabinet’s endorsement now heads to Jordan’s Parliament, whose members must vote on the measure; they could still potentially block it.