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Royal committee responds to women advocates’ long-time demands

By Rana Husseini - Feb 26,2017 - Last updated at Feb 26,2017

AMMAN — A Royal committee on Sunday recommended the scrapping  of the controversial Article 308 of the Penal Code, which  allows sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment if they marry their victims.

The Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing the Rule of Law (RCDJERL), chaired by former prime minister Zeid Rifai, on Sunday handed His Majesty King Abdullah the report after four months of discussions. 

Among the recommendations was an amendment, long-awaited by women activists, preventing a reduction in  punishment if a woman was killed for reasons related to so-called “family honour”.

Every year, between 15 and 20 women are killed in the Kingdom for reasons related to “family honour”, with many perpetrators escaping tough punishment if they claim this as their motive.

Some individuals and families have murdered female relatives for inheritance or other financial reasons, while claiming reasons of   “family honour”.

A third amendment to the Penal Code also gave judges and the courts the discretionary authority to reduce a punishment if the family of the victim decides to drop charges.

In many cases, including crimes against women and children, the family of the victim drops charges against the perpetrator who is often a family member, resulting in eased punsihment.

Lesser punishments are also applied by the courts in cases where women are murdered for reasons related to “family honour”.

“The panel made three important amendments that will work to safeguard the rights of women in Jordan, guarantee them better legal protection and stiffen punishments against anyone who would harm or kill a woman,” an official source familiar with the discussions told The Jordan Times.

The source, who preferred anonymity, added that “the three amendments and new inclusions in the draft Penal Code were welcomed by all of the committee members.  There was no resistance to any of the three clauses,” the source added.

The controversial provision, Article 308, has been heavily criticised by women and rights activists because it allows sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment if they marry their victims, provided that they remain married to their victims for periods ranging from three to five years, depending on the nature of the sexual assault.

While the government had amended the article in 2016, scrapping pardon in cases of rape, even if the perpetrator offered to marry his victim , the law still allows perpetrators to escape punishment if the sexual assault victim is between the ages of 15 and 18, and if the assault was “consensual”.

Officials had justified the option of a pardon in cases where the victim is between the ages of 15 and 18, saying that the provision is  “to protect her [the victim], because in some instances she could be harmed or killed by her family if she does not marry her rapist”.

However, the amendment was met with fierce opposition and criticism by the women’s movement and human rights activists, who argued that “individuals under the age of 18 are considered children and cannot weigh the consequences of their actions and decisions”.

Opposition to Article 308 has also drawn in members of the Royal family. HRH Princess Basma, a women’s rights champion, posted a statement on her official Facebook page shortly after the government announced the partial amendments to Article 308, calling for the complete scrapping of Article 308.

 “The amendment to Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which formerly allowed perpetrators of sexual assault to evade punishment if they married their victims, is a significant but piecemeal step towards combating gender-based violence and discrimination [through] legislation,” Princess Basma wrote.

“308 continues to deny some of the basic rights of child victims between 15 [and] 18, who are essentially most vulnerable to pressures from adults and society. It is therefore absolutely crucial that we continue to lobby, demand and advocate for the complete abolition of Article 308,” she added.

In April, the draft Penal Code, including amendments to Article 308, was sent to the Parliament by the government to be voted on it.  

However, the government later withdrew the draft law in order for the RCDJERL to review it and make any necessary amendments.  

The Royal committee, which completed the review in the allotted four months, was made up of 10 judicial experts. 

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