Women’s rights groups in Morocco are denouncing comments made by Solidarity, Women and Family Minister Bassima Hakkaoui and are demanding reform of the kingdom’s rape laws.
Hakkoui told legislators from the Justice and Development party in May that “the issue of child sexual abuse has been politically exploited by associations, which have greatly harmed Morocco’s image abroad.”
She also said that the marriage of underage girls should be on the table for discussion, “because many advanced countries allow girls to marry at the age of 14.”
The comments came in the wake of the suicide of 16-year-old Amina al-Filali, who took her own life rather than submit to a marriage to the man who raped her. Her death led to calls to eliminate the marriage exception to Morocco’s rape law.
Under the current law, if an underage girl is raped, and her rapist marries her, only a person with “certain social status” can press rape charges.
Morocco’s Democratic League for Women’s Rights (LDDF) head Khadija Rabah told Magharebia that Hakkoui’s statements “harm, rather than serve, the minister’s career.”
“Women’s associations are not an opponent to the minister,” she added. But she said Hakkoui “should direct her attention to issues that harm children and women because she is the one who oversees this sector, rather than blame the associations that are doing their job.”
Bayt Al Hikma president Khadija Rouissi expressed frustration that the government has not clarified Hakkoui’s statements.
“I would like to say to the minister that the world has become a small village,” Rouisi said in an interview with Magharebia. “With this technological revolution and the Arab Spring, nothing can be hidden.”
Hala Mourad, a university student and activist in the capital city of Rabat, told Bikyamasr that she didn’t understand why Hakkoui brought up international views on the matter at all.
“This is a local issue affecting women in this country. Moroccans” said Mourad. “What does it matter about the outside world. If we are so concerned about it, then let’s change how women are treated.”
The remarks, and slow movement towards change in the law, have frustrated women’s rights activists and sparked fears that the country is backsliding on the protection of women, who under the Moroccan constitution are guaranteed equal political, civil and social rights.
“What is the government’s position on these issues if the minister, who is the only woman in government, is against the exposure of violations against children and women?” Rouisi asked.