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The continued horror of “marry-your-rapist” laws around the world

  • Published on
    April 15, 2021
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  • Category:
    Forced Marriage
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Though the “marry-your-rapist” laws have mostly been rooted out, a new report from the United Nations has revealed that laws allowing rapists to evade prosecution by marrying their victims persist around the world.

According to the findings from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the so-called “marry-your-rapist” laws still exist in Russia, Thailand, Venezuela and 17 other countries.

In these states, men can legally have rape convictions overturned if they marry the women they have assaulted, effectively perpetuating forced marriage, a form of modern slavery. After surviving the horrific crime, survivors are subjected to more suffering by being forced into a marriage with their oppressor. These practices persist around the world due to patriarchal norms that have perpetuated the idea that marriage between a man and a woman equates to a man having a sense of “ownership” over their partner. In fact, it is only relatively recently that marital rape has begun to be considered a serious human rights violation.

Many countries in which “marry-your-rapist” laws exist restrict the law to cases involving underage victims, child abuse, deferring to the victim’s parents or guardians for consent to the arranged marriage and further undermining her agency.

Small steps towards a better world

Though Dina Dabbous, a regional director of Equality Now—a contributor to the report—said that these laws are difficult to change, she noted there has been progress in recent years.

Several countries in the Arab world repealed their own “marry-your-rapist” laws after a young woman in Morocco killed herself following a forced marriage to her attacker in 2012.

The UNFPA described education as the key to further progress against these antiquated laws, with health providers also playing an important part.

The Guardian reports:

Dr Natalia Kanem, executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which published the report on Wednesday, said such laws were “deeply wrong” and were “a way of subjugating women”.

The denial of rights cannot be shielded in law. ‘Marry your rapist’ laws shift the burden of guilt on to the victim and try to sanitise a situation which is criminal.”

Dabbous… said the laws reflected a culture “that does not think women should have bodily autonomy and that they are the property of the family. It’s a tribal and antiquated approach to sexuality and honour mixed together”.

Forced marriage, emotional abuse, domestic violence

Though “marry-your-rapist” laws are a particularly egregious example, there are numerous other laws around the world that rob women of their agency and constitute serious human rights abuse.

Forty-three countries around the world do not consider marital rape as criminal offence, while more than 30 place limits on a woman’s freedom outside her home.

The situation for people with disabilities is even worse. Both girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to physical abuse and sexual violence than children without a disability.

Even outside of formal legal frameworks, cultural norms limit women’s autonomy; in Mali, Niger, and Senegal, for example, fewer than 10 percent of women and girls make their own choices regarding healthcare, contraception, and sex with their partners.

Voices against rape and forced marriages

In some countries where forced marriage occurs, activists form groups to speak out against the regulations. Notably, in 2017, women from the Abaad organization hung women’s wedding dresses from nooses on Beirut’s sea front. This protest gained traction throughout Lebanon and globally with coverage in  the Independent, the New York Times, BBC News as well as across social media. The combined power of the event and the submitted petitions eventually lead to the repeal of article 522 of the Lebanon Penal Code, commonly referred to as the “rape law”, but there is still work to be done in terms of the country’s legislation.

Fighting “marry-your-rapist” and forced marriage laws

Freedom United has long campaigned against these pernicious forms of modern slavery, including specifically on “marry-your-rapist” laws in Lebanon, and we continue to fight vocally against forced child marriage and all such laws that allow it to endure.

Join the movement and add your name today. Help end “marry-your-rapist” laws and forced marriages.


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