A rapist in Iraq can escape punishment by marrying his victim

Join brave women's rights activists in Iraq who are calling on the Iraqi government to stop impunity for rapists.

By Heba Kanso, BEIRUT, March 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Iraqi women are ramping up pressure to abolish a law that lets rapists off the hook if they marry their victims, after Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon scrapped similar articles last year.

Activists plan to demonstrate and use billboards to condemn the controversial law ahead of May parliamentary elections in the predominately Shi'ite Muslim, conservative society. "We want to say to the Iraqi government - give women justice," Rasha Khalid, a lawyer and member of Baghdad Women's Association, a local rights group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the capital.

"Iraq is has to keep up with its surrounding neighbours like Tunisia and Lebanon and other countries that abolished this law."

Egypt repealed its law in 1999, and Morocco overhauled its law in 2014 following the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the attempted suicide of a 15-year-old, both of whom were forced to marry their rapists.

Khalid wants to raise awareness so that voters can demand change going into the polls, as Iraq struggles to recover from a three-year war with Islamic State militants.

Intisar al-Jubory, who has pushed for the amendment to be put on parliament's agenda, said "mass pressure" is needed.

"The repeal of this article preserves the dignity of women victims (against) the greatest humanitarian crime of rape," the female parliamentarian said in a statement.

Women are often forced to marry their rapist to protect family honor and avoid societal shame, said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East consultant for the rights group Equality Now, urging reform to end the "re-victimisation" of women.

"It is a clear violation of their rights," she said by phone, adding that the law rewards men for committing rape.

Many women reject the law, which also exists in Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya and Syria.

"I was under constant stress, unhappy, feeling disgusted," Sabiha, a 32-year-old Iraqi woman who was pressured into marrying her rapist, a relative, told Equality Now.

"I took every opportunity to initiate fights with him until I forced him to leave me."

(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Katy Migiro. Credit to Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Take action with Equality Now and brave women's rights activists in Iraq!

Marry-your-rapist exemption, polygamy, “child marriage”. There is a disturbing pattern in Iraq in the last few months and years, with Parliamentarians proposing and backing laws that encourage violence and discrimination against women and girls.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon repealed similar “marry your rapist” provisions in 2017 and Bahrain and several other countries in the region are in the process of revoking such articles.

Article 398 of Iraq’s Penal Code allowing rapists to marry their victims and go unpunished contradicts Iraq’s Constitution and international law. That is why we are calling for a full vote on the proposal to repeal Article 398!

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