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Lebanon Repeals Law Allowing Rapists To Walk Free If They Marry Their Victims

17/08/2017 3:53 AM AEST | Updated 17/08/2017 5:35 AM AEST
PATRICK BAZ via Getty Images
An activist from Abaad, a women's rights group in Lebanon, protests a law that shields rapists from prosecution on the condition that they marry their victim.

Lebanon’s Parliament on Wednesday repealed a law that had allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married their victims.

Jordan and Tunisia recently abolished similar provisions.

“It’s an enormous victory for women’s rights in Lebanon,” Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told HuffPost. “By having this law on the books, it created a tolerance for rape, and a culture that legitimized and excused rape in certain circumstances.”

Under the Lebanese Penal Code, rape is currently punishable by seven years in prison. Article 522, which dates to the 1940s, stopped the prosecution or suspended the conviction of a person who committed rape, kidnapping or statutory rape if he married his victim.  

According to Human Rights Watch, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, several Latin American countries, the Philippines, and Tajikistan are among countries with similar laws. 

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said many of these laws have their roots in Western colonialism, rather than in Islam.

“They largely stem from or were inspired by the French Napoleonic Code of 1810, which allowed a man who kidnapped a girl to escape prosecution if he married her,” Begum said.  

Khawaja said the shame and stigma surrounding rape may still pressure victims into coerced marriages. More work needs to be done to change social views about sexual assault, he said, noting that child marriage and marital rape are still legal in Lebanon. 

The repeal of Article 522 followed a multi-year advocacy campaign of local and international groups, spearheaded by the women’s rights organization Abaad.

During one demonstration, the group hung dozens of wedding dresses from nooses along Beirut’s beachfront. On Twitter, they campaigned using the hashtag #undress522

In a statement, Abaad said it was pleased to see rape laws in the Middle East and North Africa region falling one by one. 

“We are, of course, extremely happy,” the statement read, adding that “now it is time for implementation” and putting in place mechanisms to end the law in practice.

This article has been updated with further information about the origins of certain laws pertaining to rape.

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Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.

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