Morocco is considered fairly liberal compared to most of its neighbors, but what liberality there is may be more formal than real.
There’s that 2004 revision of the family code that raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18. The trouble is it allowed for “exceptions” where a judge could rule that young Miss 15 was actually old enough – and guess what. Lots of judges are ruling just that.
A 2014 World Bank report entitled “Ten Years After Morocco’s Family Code Reforms: Are Gender Gaps Closing?” indicates that of the 44,134 underage marriage petitions in 2010, 99 percent involved underage girls and 92 percent of said requests received judicial approval.
As the World Bank report succinctly states: “If the aim of this reform was to decrease the number of underage marriages, it is failing.”
Bouzekri, who is also a Gender Studies professor at Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, cites the loophole allowing underage and forced marriages as a recurring example of the inadequacy of Moroccan authorities and lawmakers to implement the new moudawana.
“Today we routinely find that judges marry girls that are either 15 and 16, especially in the rural areas. The judge will accept that she looks like a woman, that she is capable of being a woman but (she’s only) 15 or 16. There should not be a distinction: Marriage should happen at the age of 18. That’s it. No exceptions,” says Bouzekri.
And then there’s the whole “marry your rapist” problem.
In 2012, 16-year-old Amina Filali, consumed rat poison after being “…forced by her parents and a judge to marry the man she said had raped her at knife point…” according to The New York Times. Filali’s tragic death inspired protests across the country and global ire from feminist and human rights organizations. In January 2014, the Moroccan Parliament voted to expunge the clause of Article 475 of its penal code that allowed a man accused of rape to avoid jail time if he married his adolescent victim, the clause that failed to protect girls like Filai.
Again, good, but again, it’s only on paper.
A 2013 BMC International Health and Human Rights report entitled “Determinants of child and forced marriages in Morocco” interviewed 22 “stakeholders” in Moroccan gender reform such as government officials, NGO works and health care professional. The report indicates that judges rule in an attempt to shield underage or sexually abused girls from the shame of divorce or familial abandonment.
“In these rural areas, the look of the neighbor is very important. The father, the mother, they will say, ‘I know my daughter was raped but I want him to marry her’. The judges hear that, especially in rural areas,” said Bouzekri.
Because of the neighbors.