Forced Marriage and Violence against Women in Morocco: Legislations Failing to Put an End to Violations

Violence against women has been recognized by the world as a human rights violation, a gender based discrimination and an attack on the freedom and dignity of women and girls all over the world. According to the first globally accepted definition of VAW (VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN), the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), it is defined as ‘all acts of gender-based violence that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’.

Morocco is a progressive nation with pioneering institutional and civil society experience among other nations in the Arab world. This is with reference to social campaigns in empowering women and girls and promoting their situations and rights, which they have carried out over the years including community mobilization, awareness-raising and training. Also, in 2011, the constitution made the position of the country clear on the issue of discrimination, particularly gender based discrimination and discrimination on grounds of personal circumstances. Article 22 of the constitution made prohibits any suppression of women, stating that everyone will have a right to their physical and moral integrity and it will not be undermined by any form of harsh treatment under any circumstances by any person, private of public. The section also prohibits infliction of pain by one upon another, under whatsoever pretext.

However, violence against women and girls prevents them from enjoying the rights they have under the Constitution, the Family Code and other relevant legislations. Fighting violence against women and girls is a long-term project, given the impunity of perpetrators and the large social acceptance of gender-based violence that is a manifestation of “historically unequal power relations between men and women … [and] one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”

Morocco has greatly improved the social and legal framework surrounding sexual and reproductive health in the last decade. For example, the Family Law or Moudawana has finally been put up. Also, the minimum age of marriage for girls was increased and equal rights within a family are championed. Despite all this, forced marriage and violence is still a major issue.

Examples of Violence

The most prevalent form of abuse can be agreed to be Child Marriage, which is the marrying off of girls before the legal age of 18. More than 700 million girls alive, between the ages of 18 to infinity were married before the age of 18.  Such practices are widespread, particularly in low human development countries, where 39 percent of women aged 20 to 24 were married before their 18th birthday, despite and increasing calls for the end.

Although boys are also married as children, girls are mostly affected by this practice, the feel is no better as they are also often married off to men significantly older than them. In Morocco, the practice is seemingly accepted to the society, until recently when human and civil rights organizations started raising dust. Marrying girls before they are legal is one of the prevalent forms of violence among many others, as defined in the General Assembly Resolution on “Crime prevention and criminal justice measures to eliminate violence against women”:

Physical violence: ‘intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, injury or harm. It includes, but is not limited to, scratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, poking, hair pulling, slapping, punching, hitting, burning, the use of restraints or one’s body size or strength against another person, and the use, or threat to use, weapons.’

Sexual violence: ‘any non-consensual sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.’

Psychological abuse/violence: ‘any act or omission that damages the self-esteem, identity or development of the individual’ or ‘behaviour that is intended to intimidate and persecute, and takes the form of threats of abandonment or abuse, confinement to the home, surveillance, threats to take away custody of the children, destruction of objects, isolation, verbal aggression and constant humiliation.’

Economic abuse/violence/exploitation: ‘causing or attempting to cause an individual to become financially dependent on another person, by obstructing her or his access to, or control over, resources and/or independent economic activity’ or ‘acts such as the denial of funds, refusal to contribute financially, denial of food and basic needs, and controlling access to health care, employment.’

WHY VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN EXISTS IN MOROCCO

Estimates from the 2015 Human Development Report show over 49 countries in the world today do not recognize women enough to make laws which protects them from the patriarchal society; 32 other countries make women take a separate procedure in obtaining a passport from the one men take; In 18 countries, women need the signatures of their husbands before they are offered a job and women face major advantages in both paid and unpaid work even though they carry out about 40 percent of Moroccan labor market requirements.

Morocco ironically has the best records with domestic violence against women out of the three countries of the Maghreb. The Article 490 of the Moroccan Penal Code criminalizes extramarital sex (for only women), recommending severe treatments such as a month to a year in jail for the offender. This shows there is a long way still to go. There are so many other laws that limit the freedom of Moroccan women, being one of the reasons why there has been a rise in feminist groups who are working together to push the legislative standards towards fairness and equality. The fight by conservatives in civil society organizations, judicial institutions, and society to limit the legislation and its effects is consolidating them.

Implementation is a problem for most laws that protect women’s rights in Morocco. The main reason the women are being treated this way is the Moroccan government never implements policies supposed to protect and support their rights.

The barrier to effectual implementation of these laws is the government itself. For example, despite the ‘ban’ on child marriage, judges from the rural areas and some older, leftist ones will still use their discretion to uphold waivers that overrule this law. Some of their actions include sanctioning child marriage requests and restricting bride-initiated divorce files, among others. Thus, in Morocco, if a woman obtains a fair solution and resolution from the government, there is no guarantee the decision will be enforced or upheld.

Another barrier is formed by the social and cultural conditioning of Morocco as regards to sex and gender. Basic social traditions, and economic needs in the region favors males and seclude females as secondary – limiting them to stereotyped female roles such as early brides and domestic workers. For example, education and literacy among the girl child is not prioritized or even supported because the girl child is assumed to not be as important as the male.

As explained earlier, all that is made to tackle issues concerning domestic violence are vague laws, which aren’t effected in the very least. For instance, the draft law 103-13 would define violence against women as “any act caused by sex-based discrimination that results in physical, psychological or sexual or economic harm to women”, but while this definition is comparatively and on the surface, similar to Article 1 of the 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the article does not explain the detail included in Article 2 of the UN Declaration, which modifies the definition with a list of all the forms of violence against women occurring within the family, the general community and finally perpetrated or condoned by the government or state agents.

A key definition of discrimination against women, in line with the Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is also absent from the Moroccan version. This depicts the sorry state of women rights in Morocco because the legislature will pass vague laws and the judiciary will not enforce them.

The vague draft law in question begins with a prologue framing the rights of women and girls in Morocco within the perspective of “the tolerant principles” of Moroccan society’s “religion” and “civilizational values”. Upon a deeper read however, we discover that although it has an ornate preamble asserting its primary fundamental concepts, the draft law fails to recognize that masculinity or feminity is socially constructed. Rather, it conjoins women and girls with their stereotyped gender-based roles as wives and mothers, particularly with regard to violence.

While it is a welcome step, that the laws are being made, they are useless if they’re vague or truncated. Furthermore, no new offences were defined for other categories, including women who are vulnerable to violence, including migrant women and girls, women and girls with children out of wedlock, and women and girls with disabilities.

Another major barrier is poverty and illiteracy or ignorance. It’s sad that women are the most affected by inflation and economic impairment. Although government welfare is accessible to divorcees and widows, it is still not offered to single mothers and no one understands why. In some instances where women are even entitled to government welfare, maintaining the necessary paperwork and making frequent visits  to the  relevant offices is almost impossible for the poorest and most illiterate who constantly have difficulty for obvious reasons.  Although women have the  right  to housing and the same legal opportunity to obtain housing as men, very of them actually do own their own houses in reality.

In general, here are five situations that may promote Violence against women, based on their immediate circles:

Family: There is a high rate of this. Arguably the most common form of intimate partner violence (IPV)—that is, violence from spousal beatings, sexual abuse or marital rape. Such violence occur in families within their intimate circle being partners, most times men inflicting pain on the women. There is also violence between other family members such as child abuse and the abuse of the elderly

Community: This occurs when violence occurs between individuals unrelated by blood or kin. The offenders in this case may or may not be familiar with the victims. Such violence takes place place in community situations outside the immediate residence, for example in educational institutions, streets or public transportation. Forms of such violence include: verbal abuse, physical assault, sexual intimidation, sexual abuse and rape among others.

Workplace: Tis is a specific form of violence, which occurs, in the working community, e.g. farms, offices, factories etc, between workers in or outside the given workplace. Most times, it deals with male superiors maltreating the junior female workers. Forms of such violence include: verbal abuse, physical assault, sexual intimidation, sexual abuse and rape among others.

HOW CAN MOROCCO END THIS VIOLENCE?

A huge effort is being made to end the violence against women in Morocco, including the prohibition on forced marriage (Article 503-2-1) and making the offence punishable with prison terms between six months and one year; or fines ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 Moroccan dirhams (1,030 to 3,100 US dollars). There is also a strong ban against

They also include embezzlement of resources and funds meant for the spouse, children or divorce-related arrangements (Article 526-1), with an attached punishment of prison terms from one to six months and fines between 2,000 and 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (200 and 1,030 US dollars).  Another offence as stipulated is the eviction of a spouse from a marital home, punishable with fines between 2,000 and 5,000 Moroccan dirhams (about 200 and 500 US dollars).

Here are some steps Morocco can take:

  • Redefining the law to be clear and concise, and also implementing them by sentencing offenders and caring for victims.
  • Strictly criminalizing rape in all forms, including marital rape.
  • Providing victims with the right to adequate representation in court, and ensuring they are protected from external or retributory attacks.
  • Forming creative means to curb the misinterpretation of information and communication technology and the use of social media e.g. hate speech to threaten the dignity and psychological integrity of women.  
  • Guaranteeing support and awareness of professionals and other relevant actors in effecting these laws and bringing offenders to book.