A few weeks ago, I wrote about Equality Now, a global advocacy organization that released a report on unjust rape laws around the world. I spoke with their team about current efforts to repeal an archaic law in Jordan that has left devastating consequences for victims of rape.
After years of campaigning by human rights organizations and engaged Parliamentarians, a Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law (RCDJERL) has recommended that King Abdallah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan repeal Article 308 of the Penal Code. Article 308 is a law that shields perpetrators of rape, statutory rape and kidnap perpetrators from prosecution if they marry their victims.
Jordanian law currently states that rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison or capital punishment if the victim is aged 15 or under. However, Article 308 provides a loophole that suspends criminal prosecution if the two people involved marry for a minimum of three years. Article 308 does not apply if the victim is already married, if there is an incestuous relationship between her and the perpetrator, if the victim is a minor or of a different religion, or if both the perpetrator and victim are of the same sex.
Many in Jordan oppose this law. In 2015, the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI) released a study that was based on a survey of 850 Jordanians. It revealed that the majority of Jordanians interviewed (70%) are opposed to Article 308. Four years ago, over 200 Jordanians gathered together to form a human chain in the streets of Amman to protest against Article 308 as well as against the prevalence of honor crimes, harassment, and other forms of discrimination against women in Jordan.
Morocco, Egypt and Ethiopia have closed similar loopholes to Jordan’s Article 308, and amendments are pending in Lebanon and Bahrain.
The decision to abolish Jordan’s law now rests with the King, who heads the Cabinet, the Judiciary and the Parliament. His response could come at any time.
Equality Now is one of the campaigning organizations calling on the King to approve the Committee’s recommendation for a full repeal, and to push Parliament to revoke Article 308 without any exceptions. It is calling on supporters to email the King.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an activist with Equality Now since 2008 on issues affecting women and girls in the Middle East and North Africa region, has worked on this campaign. Prior to joining Equality Now, Suad spent 10 years with the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Jerusalem (WCLAC), a Palestinian feminist NGO that addresses gender-based violence in Palestinian society within the private and public spheres.
Suad believes that the underlying cause of such laws stem from cultural traditions that continue to try to control women and girl’s sexuality. She says: “A girl is expected to be a virgin when she gets married so anything that affects her virginity is seen as a source of shame”.
“Some still believe it is better for someone who has been raped to marry her attacker because nobody else will want her…Some may hold her responsible because they think that she didn’t do enough to resist, others may suggest she ‘wanted it’ or invited it.” According to Suad, such cultural traditions place a heavy burden on the victim and put pressure on her to ‘agree’ to marry the rapist. According to a survey, fear of shame or scandal makes a majority of female survivors of sexual assault (57%) in Jordan hesitant about filing a complaint against their attackers.
And what happens to the rapist? “Meanwhile the man is rewarded rather than punished for his actions,” Suad explains. “In many cases, even when they get married under such a rape law provision, the man has the power to divorce his wife after a short period of time.”
But staying married to one’s rapist also comes with very high costs. In addition to the significant emotional trauma of having to live with someone who has subjected you to a violent assault, Suad notes that the circle of abuse can continue within such marriages and involve further emotional trauma, domestic violence and sexual assaults.
Among Article 308’s many victims is Noor (not her real name), who was only 20 years old when she was raped by her 55-year-old employer. The perpetrator, who was divorced with children, offered Noor a job cleaning, cooking, and taking care of his family. He then drugged and raped her.
After discovering she was pregnant, Noor initially filed a legal complaint against her attacker. But after he offered to marry her under Article 308, she faced pressure from her family to accept eventually agreed to marry her rapist. Children born out of wedlock in Jordan may be removed from their mother’s care and/or face a lifetime of discrimination. When her marriage became unsustainable, Noor filed for divorce. She is receiving legal counsel but faces a court battle to ensure the man legally recognizes and accepts custody of their child.
TAKE ACTION: Equality Now makes this very simple for you to do. It takes less than 5 minutes. Once you click on this link (also provided above), you are asked to provide your first and last names, country and email. You then click to give your permission to send an email – the text of which is provided for you to read – to the email addresses listed on the page. You can see how many others have signed on to the petition – right now, it is over 3100 people.