Jordan Abolishes Primitive ‘Marry the Victim’ Clause

Jordan repealed the controversial ‘marry the victim’ clause on Tuesday, which permitted impunity for rapists. Ensuing a reportedly animated 30-minute session and public vote by members of Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament, the confronting Article 308 was voted down by Speaker Atef Tarawneh.

Jordanian Prime Minister, Hani Mulki, thanked those who succeeded in amending the article; stressing that it was a clear violation of the protection of Jordanian family values.

It marks a huge step for both human rights and women’s rights, with Jordan finally among two other Middle Eastern countries that made parallel amendments; Morocco in 2014, and Egypt in 1999. Though a momentous accomplishment; it has been over a decade in the making.

Previous Jordanian law meant that the rape of a victim aged 15 years old or younger was liable to seven years’ imprisonment. The primitive Article 308 of the Penal Code permitted sexual offenders to evade conviction if they wed their victims and stayed together for a minimum of three years. Albeit, this law could only be enforced if the victim was between the ages of 15 and 18; even though the minimum age requirement falls below that of the age of consent in Jordan, which is 16.

Statistics from Jordan’s Ministry of Justice highlight that this amendment came too late; 159 perpetrators married their victims between 2010 and 2013. Although these figures also demonstrate that an average of over 280 rapes annually occurred during the same three-year period; coming from Jordan experts deem them tentative as extramarital sex is taboo in Jordan.

Of a survey from over 70 countries worldwide Tunisia, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, and the Philippines were just some of the nine countries normalising sexual violence within their legal systems by way of ‘marry the victim’ clauses.

This brings to light the recent case of a 24-year-old Lebanese man attempting to marry his 12-year-old victim. While her parents refused, there has reportedly been no push for a conviction to be made against the rape perpetrator.

Regrettably, this reaction is common in jurisdictions where women typically have limited rights; such as Iraq, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Afghanistan. Not only does the victim have to live with the shame of rape; unless she can prove the assault, punishment will often ensue as extramarital intercourse is generally illegal and deemed ‘dishonourable’.

Many Jordanian women’s rights activists maintain that the removal of Article 308 is simply the beginning; countless societal issues in Jordan are yet to be answered. The deep-rooted patriarchy in Jordanian society and the stigma surrounding sexual violence is still seen as both a societal concern and threat to women.

However, with other concerns aside, the removal of Article 308 will emancipate many women from what is often considered by legal experts as gender-based violence.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.