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Time to Change Lebanese Law That Offers Rapists Marriage to Survivors

Lebanon’s government has the opportunity to repeal a law allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying the women they’ve abused. Myriam Sfeir of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World says it’s time the country’s politicians stood up for women’s rights.

Written by Myriam Sfeir Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
An activist from the Lebanese NGO Abaad campaigns against Article 522 of the country's penal code. AP/Hassan Ammar

Rapists have unusual privileges in Lebanon.

By virtue of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, a person who commits this abhorrent crime can be acquitted and escape punishment if they marry the woman they abused. For the survivor herself, it is not enough to endure the trauma of rape; Her punishment continues in that she must live with her rapist for years afterwards. If a divorce occurs within three to five years, prosecution is resumed.

A rapist is also not liable for the act of rape if he is already married to the victim, since “marital rape” in Lebanon is not recognized. In the predominant view, a wife’s duty is to fulfil her husband’s sexual needs. Once married, women in Lebanon surrender rights to bodily autonomy.

But change could be around the corner. In February 2017, a proposal to repeal Article 522 was approved by the Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice. On May 15, the Lebanese Parliament is expected to vote on the issue.

Calls have intensified in Lebanon and in the region to completely abolish Article 522 and other discriminatory laws. Gender rights activists, civil society organizations, scholars, lawyers, journalists and artists have launched campaigns across the country calling for the elimination of this law.

Egypt and Morocco were pioneers in this area, annulling their “rape marriage” laws in 1999 and 2014. Last month, Jordan succeeded in doing the same, despite strong opposition from conservative segments of society. Bahrain is now working on removing its “rape clause” from the penal code and introducing more strict punishments against rapists.

The media in Lebanon is playing a vital role in shedding light on women’s rights violations and highlighting issues such as child marriage, intimate partner violence and the killing of women, as well as the Article 522 discussion. Now more than ever, such issues are subject to public debate and protest.

But it is not enough to change laws: Everyone in Lebanon must take steps to change the way society views women. The notion that it is shameful to report a rape is still prevalent. The patriarchal mentality that rape needs to be covered up still exists because, by society’s standards, a raped woman dishonors her family. That’s why it is considered best for her to marry her rapist: She is “ruined goods,” having lost her virginity and having no chance of marrying anyone else.

Families usually opt not to disclose rapes, which means there is a dearth of statistics on the number of rape cases in Lebanon. Outside the law, many surviviors often accept a marriage deal to safeguard their life and protect the “honor” of the family.

There is nothing honorable in marrying a survivor to her rapist. Rape ought to be punished severely each and every time it happens. Rapists shouldn’t be spared from punishment; they should receive the strictest of sentences.

Lebanese artist Mireille Honein and Abaad NGO hung wedding dresses from the Beirut seafront to protest Article 522. (AFP/Patrick Baz)

Gender advocates hope Lebanon will follow Jordan’s lead and repeal this law. In doing so, the government will send a message that it is committed to women’s rights, and to removing all discriminatory provisions in the penal code.

It will also honor the international commitments we have made and the international human rights treaties we have signed. On several occasions, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has called upon Lebanon to criminalize marital rape and abolish the rape-marriage law.

Lebanon should aspire to set an example to countries that still have rape-marriage laws. Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine and Syria all still allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying the women they raped.

This battle against immoral laws and patriarchal attitudes is not going to be an easy one for the Arab region. But activists in Lebanon and beyond are prepared to fight for as long as it takes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Women & Girls.

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