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Cabinet scraps provision allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying victims

By Rana Husseini - Apr 17,2016 - Last updated at Apr 17,2016

AMMAN — Justice Minister Bassam Talhouni on Sunday announced that the Cabinet endorsed the cancellation of a clause in the Penal Code's Article 308 that allowed sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment if they marry their victims.

"This is a great achievement that came following thorough deliberations by legal experts and activists for over a year," Talhouni told The Jordan Times.

The minister said the cancellation of the clause came in compliance with the repeated demands and lobbying by the women's movement over the years and to ensure justice for victims of sexual assaults.

However, the minister said one clause remained in Article 308 for incidents involving female minors aged 15 to 18 if the sexual activity was consensual.

"We kept this clause in order to protect the victim, especially since it is consensual and she willingly accepted to get married," the minister explained.

However, women activists were not entirely content with the amendments and said they were hopeful that the government would scrap the article altogether.

"This is a great achievement that reflects the big role that civil society plays in advocating for women's rights in Jordan," activist Laila Naffa told The Jordan Times.

Naffa, who is a member of the Arab Women Organisation, said despite the positive step "we were hopeful that the government would cancel the entire provision without any exceptions".

Former minister Asma Khader said the move is not enough because individuals under the age of 18 are considered children and cannot weigh the consequences of their actions and decisions.

"We were hoping for full cancellation of the article, because we believe in protecting children who are victims of sexual crimes as they cannot differentiate between forced or consensual sex," Khader, a veteran activist and lawyer, told The Jordan Times.

"I cannot accept the terminology and definition of consensual sex for minors and I consider it as abuse to their childhood and their young age. It should be considered a crime," she noted.

Jordanian National Commission for Women Secretary General Salma Nims said the government's move "is an important step to fight discrimination and violence against women".

But the commission maintains its position in calling for scrapping the provision in full, she wrote on her Facebook page, stressing that female teenagers between 15 and 18 cannot weigh their decision properly.

Earlier in the day, Talhouni said at a press conference at the Prime Ministry in which he announced the amendments, along with dozens of other changes to the Penal Code that increased punishments for crimes such as harassment, sexual advances and lewd acts in public, or sexual assault cases that involves the guardians of the victim.

Talhouni also said that the punishment was increased for perpetrators if the victim had physical or mental disabilities.

"The draft laws will be forwarded to Parliament in the coming days for deliberation and endorsement," the minister added.

The notorious Article 308 has been under heavy criticism by women and rights activists because it allowed sexual assault perpetrators to escape punishment if they marry their victims, given that they remain married to their victims for periods ranging from three to five years, depending on the nature of the sexual assault.

Officials have said that the reason they kept a window for pardon in cases where the victim were between the ages of 15 to 18 was “to protect her, because in some instances she could be harmed or killed by her family if she does not marry her rapist”.

Activists have recently said that a staggering 95 per cent of rapists continue to go unpunished under Article 308.

 

If the new Penal Code is passed by Parliament, it must then be ratified by the King. It goes into effect upon its publication in the Official Gazette, according to the Constitution.

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