Home > Women's Rights > The Middle East’s “Rape-Marriage” Laws

The Middle East’s “Rape-Marriage” Laws

This post is an introduction to the Middle East’s “rape-marriage” laws: Their content, historical origins, and prospects for reform.

“Rape-marriage” laws are statutes in penal or criminal codes which, after the event of rape, exempt the rapist from punishment — if the victim consents to marriage. Combined with cultural notions of honor and shame, they often result in a rape victim being coerced by family, or courts, to marry her attacker.

Today, eight Arab countries have rape-marriage laws on the books: Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Territories. However, rape-marriage laws also exist outside the Middle East, particularly in Latin America.1

While there is a lack of legal analysis surrounding the laws themselves, there does exist “on the ground” information about how law and culture work together to imperil innocent women:

When a judge is presented with a case of sexual relations between a man and a woman, the judge searches for the best solution that serves both parties. If the sexual relations were forced, the parents often intervene in these matters and try to find a social solution outside of the court. This is better than destroying families…

The judge looks at both sides, the situation of the woman and the man, while taking into consideration the opinions of the family. The judge [then] decides whether it [the case] should end in jail time or a social solution in order to keep the issue secret.

— Libyan Chief Public Prosecutor, 2005

Source: Human Rights Watch, A Threat to Society? The Arbitrary Detention of Women and Girls for “Social Rehabilitation”

Later in this post, the legal and cultural attitudes which condone the existence of rape-marriage laws will be further explored — through a translated commentary from Libya’s Supreme Court. However, the above report is a must-read to get a better sense of not only the lived reality of rape-marriage laws, but also the network of prisons and rehabilitation facilities that plague the Middle East, where women who do not fit into society’s socio-moral narrative are sent to languish.

Country-by-Country Laws

The modern Middle East is relatively young. Prior to the early 20th century, the countries we are familiar with today were largely divided between three major powers: The British, the French, and the Ottoman Empire. In the wake of independence, there was a need for the new countries to draft commercial, civil, and penal codes. While some (Morocco and Algeria) largely adopted French law, other countries emulated the Lebanese penal code — a refined legal system which appealed to Arab sensibilities by melding European and Ottoman law.2 This explains the similarity in concepts and wording between penal codes.

Egypt (1904) / Gaza Strip — Article 291

In an unprecedented move, in 1999 the Egyptian parliament repealed Article 291. Nevertheless, it is listed here for historical reference. While Article 290 has been repealed as well, both remain in force in the Gaza Strip, which applies the Egyptian penal code.3

مادة 290
كل من خطف بالتحيل أو الاكراه أنثى أو بواسطة غيره يعاقب بالأشغال الشاقة المؤبدة . ومع ذلك يحكم على فاعل هذه الجناية بالإعدام إذا اقترنت بها جناية مواقعة المخطوفة بغير رضائها

مادة 291
إذا تزوج الخاطف بمن خطفها زواجا شرعيا لا يحكم عليه بعقوبة ما

Article 290: Anyone who abducts a woman — with threat, force, or other means — is punished with hard labor for life. Moreover, the perpetrator of this crime is sentenced to death if it is coupled with sexual intercourse with the abducted, without her consent.

Article 291: If the abductor marries the one he abducted, with a legally-recognized marriage, the punishment is not carried out.

Tunisia (1913) — Article 227

Est puni de mort: 1°) Le crime de viol commis avec violence, usage ou menace d’usage d’arme. 2°) Le crime de viol commis même sans usage des moyens précités sur une personne âgée de moins de 10 ans accomplis. Est puni d’emprisonnement à vie, le crime de viol commis en dehors des cas précédents…

Le mariage du coupable avec la victime dans les deux cas prévus par le présent article arrête les poursuites ou les effets de la condamnation.

الفصل 227
يعاقب بالإعدام : 1) كل من واقع أنثى غصبا باستعمال العنف أو السلاح أو التهديد به 2) كل من واقع أنثى سنها دون العشرة أعوام كاملة ولو بدون استعمال الوسائل المذكورة. ويعاقب بالسجن بقية العمر كل من واقع أنثى بدون رضاها في غير الصور المتقدمة
وزواج الفاعل بالمجني عليها في الصورتين المذكورتين يوقف التتبعات أو آثار المحاكمة

Article 227: Whoever commits the crime of rape with violence, or the use or threatened use of weapons; or rape without the aforementioned means on a person under 10-years of age; is sentenced to death. All other cases of rape are punished with life imprisonment…

The marriage of the offender with the victim, in the two preceding cases in this article, suspends the prosecution, or sentence.

Lebanon (1948) — Article 522

While the Lebanese penal code was officially promulgated in 1943 prior to end of the French Mandate, Article 522 was added in February 1948.

المادة 503
من أكره غير زوجه بالعنف والتهديد على الجماع عوقب بالأشغال الشاقة لمدة خمس سنوات على الأقل
و لا تنقص العقوبة من سبع سنوات إذا كان المعتدى عليه لم يتم الخامسة عشرة من عمره

المادة 522
معدلة وفقا للقانون تاريخ 5/2/1948
إذا عقد زواج صحيح بين مرتكب إحدى الجرائم الواردة في هذا الفصل وبين المعتدى عليها أوقفت الملاحقة وإذا كان صدر الحكم بالقضية علق تنفيذ العقاب الذي فرض عليه

Article 503: Whoever, with violence and threat, coerces (a woman) other than his wife to sexual intercourse, is punished with hard labor for no less than five years, and no less than seven years if the victim is 15-years-old or younger.

Article 522: If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator of any of the offenses mentioned in this section, and the victim, the prosecution is suspended. If judgment was already passed, the implementation of the punishment is suspended.4

Syria (1949) — Article 508

Although there was just a year of difference between the addition of Article 522 into the Lebanese code, and the drafting of the Syrian code, its wording was fully borrowed.

المادة 489
من أكره غير زوجه بالعنف أو بالتهديد على الجماع عوقب بالأشغال الشاقة خمس عشرة سنة على الأقل
ولا تنقص العقوبة عن إحدى وعشرين سنة إذا كان المعتدى عليه لم يتم الخامسة عشرة من عمر

المادة 508
إذا عقد زواج صحيح بين مرتكب الجرائم الواردة في هذا الفصل وبين المعتدى عليها أوقفت الملاحقة، وإذا كان صدر حكم بالقضية علق تنفيذ العقاب الذي فرض عليه

Article 489: Whoever, with violence and threat, coerces (a woman) other than his wife to sexual intercourse, is punished with hard labor for no less than five years, and no less than 11 years if the victim is 15 or younger.

Article 508: If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator of any of the offenses mentioned in this section, and the victim, the prosecution is suspended. If judgment was already passed, the implementation of the punishment is suspended.

Libya (1953) — Article 424

المادة 407
كل من واقع آخر بالقوة أو التهديد أو الخداع يعاقب بالسجن مدة لا تزيد على عشر سنوات
وتطبق العقوبة ذاتها على من واقع ولو بالرضا صغيراً دون الرابعة عشرة أو شخصاً لا يقدر على المقاومة لمرض في العقل أو الجسم
فإذا كان المجني عليه قاصراً أتم الرابعة عشرة ولم يتم الثامنة عشرة فالعقوبة بالسجن مدة لا تزيد على خمس سنوات

مادة 424
إذا عقد الفاعل زواجه على المعتدي عليها تسقط الجريمة والعقوبة وتنتهي الآثار الجنائية سواء بالنسبة للفاعل أو للشركاء وذلك ما دام قانون الأحوال

Article 407: Anyone who has sexual intercourse with another — through threat or deception — is punished with imprisonment not exceeding 10 years. The same punishment applies to whoever has sexual intercourse with a juvenile under 14-years-old, or a person unable to resist because of sickness in mind or body. If the victim is a minor between the ages of 14 and 18, the punishment is imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.

Article 424: If the perpetrator makes a contract of marriage with the victim; the crime, punishment, and criminal proceedings are suspended, both for the perpetrator and any accomplice.

Jordan (1960) / West Bank — Article 308

The Jordanian penal code is also applied in the West Bank.

المادة 292
من واقع انثى (غير زوجه) بغير رضاها سواء بالاكراه او بالتهديد او بالحيلة او بالخداع عوقب بالاشغال الشاقة المؤقتة مدة لا تقل عن خمس عشرة سنة
كل شخص اقدم على اغتصاب فتاة لم تتم الخامسة عشرة من عمرها يعاقب بالاعدام
وتكون العقوبة الأشغال الشاقة عشرين سنة إذا كانت المجني عليها قد أكملت الخامسة عشرة و لم تكمل الثامنة عشرة من عمرها

المادة 308
إذا عقد زواج صحيح بين مرتكب إحدى الجرائم الواردة في هذا الفصل وبين المعتدى عليها أوقفت الملاحقة وإذا كان صدر حكم بالقضية علق تنفيذ العقاب الذي فرض على المحكوم عليه

Article 292: Whoever has sexual intercourse with a woman, other than his wife, without her consent — whether through coercion, threat, deception, or fraud — is punished with hard labor for no less than 15 years. Any person who rapes a girl under 15-years-old is punished by death, and with hard labor for 20 years if the victim is between the ages of 15 and 18.

Article 308:  If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator of any of the offenses mentioned in this section, and the victim, the prosecution is suspended. If judgment was already passed, the implementation of the punishment upon the sentenced person is suspended.

Kuwait (1960) — Article 182

المادة 180
كل من خطف شخصا عن طريق القوة أو التهديد أو الحيلة، قاصدا قتله أو إلحاق أذى به أو مواقعته أو هتك عرضه، أو حمله على مزاولة البغاء، أو ابتزاز شئ منه أو من غيره، يعاقب بالإعدام

المادة 182
إذا تزوج الخاطف بمن خطفها زواجا شرعيا بإذن من وليها، وطلب الولي عدم عقاب الخاطف، لم يحكم عليه بعقوبة ما

Article 180: Anyone who abducts a person with the use of force, threat, or deception — intending to kill, harm, rape, violate the honor of, prostitute, or extort them — is punished by death.

Article 182: If the abductor marries the one he abducted, in a legally-recognized marriage with the permission of her guardian, and the guardian agrees that the abductor not undergo punishment, then he is not sentenced to punishment.

Iraq (1969) — Article 427

Article 423 was repealed in 1982.

ﻣﺎدة 423
ﻣﻦ ﺧﻄﻒ ﺑﻨﻔﺴﻪ أو ﺑﻮاﺳﻄﺔ ﻏﯿﺮه ﺑﻄﺮﻳﻖ اﻻﻛﺮاه أو اﻟﺤﯿﻠﺔ اﻧﺜﻰ اﺗﻤﺖ اﻟﺜﺎﻣﻨﺔ ﻋﺸﺮة ﻣﻦ اﻟﻌﻤﺮ ﻳﻌﺎﻗﺐ ﺑﺎﻟﺴﺠﻦ ﻣﺪة ﻻ ﺗﺰﻳﺪ ﻋﻠﻰ ﺧﻤﺲ ﻋﺸﺮة ﺳﻨﺔ
واذا صحب الخطف وقاع المجنى عليها او الشروع فيه فتكون العقوبة الاعدام او السجن المؤبد

ﻣﺎدة 427
اذا عقد زواج صحيح بين مرتكب احدى الجرائم الواردة في هذا الفصل وبين المجنى عليها اوقف تحريك الدعوى والتحقيق فيها والاجراءات الاخرى واذا كان قد صدر حكم في الدعوى اوقف تنفيذ الحكم

Article 423: Whoever, himself, or through another — with the use of coercion or deception — abducts a female at least 18-years of age, is punished with imprisonment not exceeding 15 years. If the abduction is accompanied by sexual intercourse with the victim, or attempt thereof, the punishment is death or life imprisonment.

Article 427: If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator of any of the offenses mentioned in this section, and the victim, then the case, investigation, and other procedures are suspended. If judgment was already passed in the case, implementation of the sentence is suspended.

Bahrain (1976) — Article 353

مادة 344
يعاقب بالسجن المؤبد من واقع أنثى بغير رضاها
وتكون العقوبة الإعدام أو السجن المؤبد إذا كانت المجني عليها لم تتم السادسة عشرة
ويفترض عدم رضا المجني عليها إذا لم تتم الرابعة عشرة

مادة 353
لا يحكم بعقوبة ما على من ارتكب إحدى الجرائم المنصوص عليها في المواد السابقة إذا عقد زواج صحيح بينه وبين المجني عليها . فإذا كان قد صدر عليه حكم نهائي قبل عقد الزواج يوقف تنفيذه وتنتهي آثاره الجنائية

Article 344: Whoever has sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent is punished with life imprisonment; and with the death penalty or life imprisonment if the victim is less than 16-years-old. The non-consent of the victim shall be presumed if she is less than 14-years-old.

Article 353: Punishment is not prescribed in any of the cases set forth in the preceding articles if a valid contract of marriage is made between him and the victim. If a final sentencing took place before the contract of marriage, the implementation and effects of the criminal proceedings are suspended.

Historical Origins

The primary goal of this post was to adduce and translate the current rape-marriage laws. Regardless of their historical origin or evolution, the existence of rape-marriage laws in modern penal codes is unjustifiable. However, having a limited understanding of their history can aid in crafting strategies for reform.

To this end, Ottoman law has the dubious honor of most informing the modern laws:

The Lebanese Penal Code itself has its historical origins in the Ottoman Penal Codes of 1840, 1851, and 1858, a series of codes promulgated by the Ottomans in the nineteenth century in an effort to “modernise” their empire. While the first two were primarily based on Islamic Law and local custom, the third was deeply influenced by the French code of 1810.

— Lama Abu Odeh, p. 189, “Crimes of Honour and the Construction of Gender in Arab Societies,” Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives

Article 206 of the Ottoman penal code, the last iteration of which was promulgated in June 1911, served as the precursor to the modern rape-marriage laws:

Whoever by force or fraud carries away a person whether of the male or female sex, is punished in manner following: If the person carried away is of the male sex and has not completed the age of fifteen years the offender is imprisoned for from one year to three years. If the child in this manner carried away is of the female sex the offender is put in kyurek temporarily, and if the abominable act has taken place punishment of kyurek for not less than ten years is awarded to him…

If the person whether of the male or female sex carried away has completed the age of fifteen years the offender is imprisoned for from two years to three years. If marriage has taken place with regard to the girl carried away and the girl too has completed the age of fifteen years the case for general rights lapses by her desistance, or by that of her guardian if she has not completed that age…

— John A. Bucknill and H.A.S. Utidjian, The Imperial Ottoman Penal Code: A Translation from the Turkish Text, 1912

Following World War I, the Ottoman penal code also formed the basis of the law in Britain’s Middle Eastern colonial possessions: Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt. The British-drafted 1918 Baghdad Penal Code — in force in Iraq until 1969 — therefore also contains a marriage provision in cases of abduction:

Article 247, The Baghdad Penal Code

A commentary of the Baghdad code provides details of a rape case, and its mitigation under the law:

٩٧٣ / ج / ٤٦ كركوك في اربيل
قررت المحكمة الكبرى بالاكثرية اعفاء المتهم من العقوبة المترتبة عليه من التهمة المسندة اليه وفق المادة ٢٤٧ ق ع ب وهي مصادفته المجنى عليها في الطريق عند عودتها من الطاحونة ومواقعته اياها وازالة بكارتها غير أن المتهم بعد ذلك قد عقد نكاحه عليها وتزوجها زواجا شرعيا وانها تقيم  معه في دار واحدة وذلك وفقا للفقرة الثالثة من المادة ٢٤٧ من القانون المذكور والغاء الكفالة المأخوذة منه – وقد صدق الحكم تمييزا

The court (in Erbil) has ruled by a majority to exempt the accused of punishment, along with the charges associated, in accordance with Article 247. He encountered the victim on the road, as she was returning from the mill, and had intercourse with her, removing her virginity. After that, the accused then married her, with a valid marriage contract, and she lives with him in the same house. This is in accordance with the third paragraph of Article 247, along with the cancellation of the bail taken from him.

— Al-Qada al-Jina’i al-Iraqi, vol. 3, p. 404, 1947
القضاء الجنائي العراقي – ترتيب سلمان بيات

Moreover, a chilling record from a November 1931 Palestinian court decision, under the British Mandate, directly invokes Article 206 to sanction the marriage of a rape victim to her attacker, with her father’s permission:

Collection of Judgments of the Courts of Palestine 1919-1933, vol. 2, p. 557

Therefore, the intent of Article 206 is clear. However, what is its ultimate origin? Although the Ottoman code was inspired by French law, and Article 206 is similar in wording to Articles 354-357 of the French Penal Code of 1810, the Napoleonic Code’s concept of rapt de seduction — the consensual “abduction” of a female from parental authority — does not include a rape clause. Unfortunately, the degree to which French law was adopted to craft Article 206, as well as its ultimate source and inspiration, remains unclear to me.5

Do Rape-Marriage Laws Have a Basis in Islamic Law?

زنى بامرأة ثم تزوجها أو بأمة ثم اشتراها فعليهما الحد وبه قال أكثر أهل العلم وقال أبو حنيفة : لا حد عليهما في هذه المواضع إلا إذا استأجرها لعمل شيء لأن ملكه لمنفعتها شبهة دارئة للحد ولا يحد بوطء امرأة هو مالك لها

Whoever commits adultery with a free woman and then marries her, or with a slave woman and purchases her, they are both liable for punishment, according to the majority of scholars. However, Abu Hanifa said there is no punishment (hadd) upon them…because his ownership of her introduces doubt, and averts the punishment. There is no punishment for having intercourse with a woman who he owns.

— Al-Sharh al-Kabir, Ibn Qudama (d. 620 AH/1223 CE)

Islamic law, for the most part, does not recognize the concept that criminal punishment can be retroactively commuted. If a crime is proven, the overwhelming sentiment is that it is obligatory to carry out the legally-prescribed punishment. The exception to this, however, lies in the Hanafi madhab — which happened to be the official school of Sunni Islamic law in the Ottoman Empire.

According to Hanafi legal methodology, the hadd punishment for zina (adultery) can be dropped after the act itself, if marriage takes place between the man and woman. The man’s “ownership” of the woman serves to introduce shubha (doubt) into the case, and in Islamic law hadd punishments are dropped as a precaution due to unclear legal circumstances. Not only does this notion of ownership apply to adultery, but also to other crimes, such as theft. Although, it is difficult to imagine how this worked in reality.

So, did this broad legal notion of “marriage after the fact” have an influence on Ottoman law or custom? It is unknown to me. While adultery and rape are adjudicated similarly in Hanafi jurisprudence, there is no direct mention or insinuation in the scholarly texts that this notion applies to anything other than consensual sexual intercourse. In clear cases of rape, Islamic law maintains that the victim is not punished — yet Ibn Qudama above (along with the Hanafi authors), when referencing the non-Hanafi view, indicates that both parties would be liable for punishment, even if they marry. This makes it clear that contextually these scholars were addressing consensual adultery, rather than rape.

However, based on these legal and cultural notions, rape-marriage laws of different forms could have very well existed throughout Islamic history. While the ultimate inspiration of Article 206 is unknown to me, it is not possible to rule out that the overall notion of “ownership,” which could indeed come into effect after a crime, had an impact on Ottoman custom and legal theory.

أخبرنا عبد الرزاق قال : أخبرنا عبيد الله بن عمر ، عن نافع قال جاء رجل إلى أبي بكر فذكر له ، أن ضيفا له افتض أخته استكرهها على نفسها ، فسأله فاعترف بذلك ، فضربه أبو بكر الحد ، ونفاه سنة إلى فدك ، ولم يضربها ، ولم ينفها لأنه استكرهها ، ثم زوجها إياه أبو بكر ، وأدخله عليها

A man came to Abu Bakr and told him that one of his guests had coerced, and deflowered his sister. The man was asked about that, and confessed to it. Abu Bakr flogged him with the hadd, and banished him for a year to Fadak. And he did not flog or banish her, because she was coerced. Abu Bakr then married her to him, and had him enter upon her.

— Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq, Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanani (d. 211 AH/826 CE)
Sunan al-Bayhaqi, Ahmad ibn Hussein al-Bayhaqi (d. 458 AH/1066 CE)

Finally, although the legal theory articulated by the Hanafis seems to be a legal construction, rather than something which had a precedence in the early Muslim community — there does exist an account from early Islamic history which details a case of sexual assault which ended in marriage.

Although the guilty man did indeed receive a punishment, thus differentiating it from the Hanafi and Ottoman notions, he was later married to the woman by the command of Abu Bakr, the first Islamic caliph. What were the circumstances surrounding this decision? Had the woman become unmarriagable due to loss of virginity? We will never know. However, it demonstrates that whatever the specifics, the cultural forces which spawn rape-marriage laws, and cut across time and culture, can be just as damning, and even more dangerous than the laws themselves.

Moreover, it serves to show that even if there is shariah law — injustice can still exist. Islamic law — while not mandating it — does not prohibit marriage after cases of rape. Filtered down to the social level, Islam as a socio-psychological force clearly breeds notions of honor and shame related to women, enabling the existence of marriage after rape. The above example shows that the blind quest for implementation of Islamic legal punishments (such as lashing or stoning, among Islamist movements) — which stress it as a “solution” for social and cultural ills — is clearly misguided. Rape existed throughout Islamic history, shariah punishments did not serve to stop it, nor does Islamic law fully rectify the wrong, or bring justice to rape victims.

Prospects for Reform

Accepting marriage under Article 308 is better than leaving girls to be killed by their parents or relatives…I think the law fits our society and reality. It protects the girls by forcing attackers to marry them.

— Israa Tawalbeh, Jordan’s first female coroner. ‘Rape-law’ triggers fury in Jordan, Agence France-Presse

Rape law has, in statute and in practice, privileged the protection of social order over the provision of individual criminal justice. The marriage loophole, where it exists, is clearly a means by which to rectify a social problem (the social standing of a raped woman and her family) rather than to punish a crime.  In general, it is clear that the practice privileges broader social interests, especially those of the victim’s relatives, over the interests of the victim herself.

— Catherine Warrick, p. 67, Law in the Service of Legitimacy: Gender and Politics in Jordan

As can be seen, rape-marriage laws often cater to the lowest common denominator of human and cultural expectation. Rather than placing culpability on the rapist, the laws often placate prevailing social attitudes. Rather than crafting tough, proactive laws to punish rape or honor killings — which would in turn serve to change social perceptions — this catering to the lowest standards of human decency is legally, culturally, and intellectually unjustifiable.

Case in point, below is a legal commentary of Article 424 — Libya’s rape-marriage law. Although most legal commentaries cover procedural issues alone, this commentary of the Libyan penal code also included a section on the “wisdom of the law.” After offering his own analysis, the author — a law professor — also adduces a statement from Libya’s Supreme Court. The sentiments expressed are disturbing in the degree to which they seek to absolve rapists of criminal responsibility, and avoid a proactive pursuit of justice:

ذلك أن الزواج اللاحق لارتكاب إحدى الجرائم المشار إليها بين الفاعل والمعتدي عليها والذي يفترض أنه يقوم على أسس من المودة والرحمة وتحل به العلاقات بين الرجل والمرأة (م1 من القانون رقم 10 لسنة 1984 بشأن الأحكام الخاصة بالزواج والطلاق وآثارهما) يجعل من حسن السياسة تنازل المجتمع عن حقه في عقاب الجاني، لأن السير في إجراءات المحاكمة أو تنفيذ الحكم الصادر بشأنها إذا لم يحل دون إتمام الزواج ويمنع نشوء الرابطة الزوجية، فقد يجعل استمرارها أمرا مستحيلا خصوصا وأن بعض الأقراد يلجأ إلى ارتكاب الجرائم السباق الإشارة إليها بقصد الزواج، مثال ذلك جريمة الخطف بقصد الزواج (م 411 ع) وقد أوضحت المحكمة العليا الليبية حكمة تشريع النص المذكور بقولها «ويبين من السياق هذا النص أنه استثناء من القاعدة العامة وهي محاكمة الجاني عما اقترفه من الجرم، وهذا الاستثناء يبرره أولا الحفاظ على سمعة المجني عليها في المجتمع الذي تعيش فيه بعد أن ثلم عرضها وجرحت في شرفها وكانت ضحية معدومة الإرادة نتيجة لما قام به المعتدي من إكره مادي وأدبي عليها أو استخدام قوة مادية يشل بها مقاومتها أو استخدام أساليب المكر والخداع أو غير ذلك مما يفقد المجني عليها حرية الاختيار ويحملها على الاستسلام لما يطلب منها وقد سوى المشرع بين كل ذلك وبين الحالات الأخرى المنصوص عليها في الفقرتين 2 ،3  من نفس المادة. ويبرره ثانيا ترغيب الجاني وتشجيعه على الزواج من المعتدي عليها عن طريق وقف الإجراءات الجنائية بانسبة له إذا كانت قد بدأت فعلا أو إيقاف تنفيذ الحكم إذا كان قد صدر». المحكمة العليا جلسة 21-6-1984، مجلة المحكمة العليا س22 ع1 ص185

For when marriage — which should ideally be built on a foundation of love and compassion, and which makes lawful the relations between a man and woman — occurs between the perpetrator and the victim, it makes for good policy for society to forego its right to criminal sanction. Because a trial or sentence would, if not prevent the consummation of marriage and the establishment of the marital bond, make the survival of such bond impossible. Especially since some individuals may resort to crimes for the purpose of marriage, such as kidnapping. This wisdom was made clear in the statement from the Supreme Court:

«It is clear from the context of the law (Article 424) that it is an exception to the general rule — that being a trial for the offender — and this exception is justified. Firstly, to protect the reputation of the victim in the society where she lives — after her honor has been wounded — and she became a helpless victim due to the physical and moral coercion used against her. He used strength to paralyze her resistance, and cunning and deception, which made the victim lose her freedom of choice, and surrender to what he wanted from her. Secondly, it encourages the offender to marry the victim in exchange for discontinuing the criminal proceedings against him, if they had already started, or through staying the execution of the sentence if already delivered.»

— Muhammad Ramadan Barah, Al-Qanun al-Jina’i al-Libi, vol. 1, pp. 269-270
محمد رمضان باره – القانون الجنائي الليبي

This bizarre reasoning, and utter disregard for justice — which seemingly downplays the crime at every turn and grossly ignores any redress for the victim, while disproportionately seeking to exculpate the rapist — is extremely disconcerting, and goes far beyond anything justifiable in terms of cultural, regional, or religious attitudes and norms. These statements are simply incomprehensible in their apparent contempt and disregard for the plight of a woman and rape victim, and could only have been made in an environment which aides and abets the highest degree of female objectification. Moreover, it becomes starkly clear the degree to which these attitudes diverge from Islamic notions of criminal justice and legal responsibility.

However, regardless of  whatever reasoning or prevailing attitudes might exist, rape-marriage laws are unsustainable. As Article 291 in Egypt shows, with political will and vision, progress can be made. The continued existence of rape-marriage laws in regional penal codes — a concept borrowed from existing law codes and left largely unchanged — demonstrates an extreme deficiency of political will and debate, and along with the reasoning for their continued existence, is an alarming indictment of the intellectual and cultural health of the political class.

Mechanisms for Change, Local Resources

Although not all Middle Eastern countries have rape-marriage laws (a majority of them do not, in fact), the general cultural attitudes which exist alongside them are present in all countries. However, the Middle East’s status quo is changing. With increasing social and global mobility, sustained rates of higher education attainment, and increasing employment and access to the social space, women are a driving force in the region — they are serving to change family attitudes, and shape a culture of openness and tolerance for the next generation. Globalization is serving to foster individualism, and bolster notions that the interest of the individual has primacy over that of the group. With the Arab Spring, citizens and lawmakers alike are no longer afraid to break with the past, and challenge the establishment. With students and professionals from the region increasingly exposed to new thought processes — criticism, dynamism, and critical thinking — the prospect for a culture which values intelligent debate has never been higher. And with skyrocketing access to social media and the Internet, grassroots advocacy campaigns can reach into homes across all demographics — like Delete 522 in Lebanon, and 308 Campaign in Jordan. Due to these developments, the future of rape-marriage laws, and the attitudes expressed previously, do not seem promising.


As has been seen, the Middle East’s rape-marriage laws follow predictable patterns. In the wake of independence less than a century ago, it is clear that modern states imported their legal codes nearly verbatim from other sources, and without much debate. The similarity in wording and concepts is not a coincidence — a plethora of geographically and culturally disparate countries cannot have the same laws if true debate and critical thought took place. Libyans, Jordanians, Bahrainis, and others can be assured that rape-marriage laws have no basis in their national identity or religion, and with the cultural and political changes taking shape in front of our eyes, a future of legal reform and progress seems bright. With a sense of this context and history, perhaps a small stone on the path to a better future can be laid.


1. Given the common European heritage of Latin American countries, and influence upon their legal systems, the widespread existence of rape-marriage laws seems to hint at a common historical origin.

Article 1088 Argentina (Civil Code): Si el delito fuere de estupro o rapto, la indemnización consistirá en el pago de una suma de dinero a la ofendida, si no hubiese contraído matrimonio con el delincuente. Esta disposición es extensiva cuando el delito fuere de cópula carnal por medio de violencias o amenazas a cualquiera mujer honesta, o de seducción de mujer honesta, menor de dieciocho años.

Article 317 Bolivia: No habrá lugar a sanción, cuando los reos, en los casos respectivos, no teniendo impedimento alguno, contrajeren matrimonio con las ofendidas, antes de que la sentencia cause ejecutoria.

Article 107 Brazil: Extingue-se a punibilidade…Pelo casamento do agente com a vítima, nos crimes contra os costumes, definidos nos Capítulos I, II e III do Título VI do Parte Especial deste Código.

Article 92 Costa Rica (repealed 2007): También extinguen la acción penal o la pena, el matrimonio del procesado o condenado con la ofendida, cuando éste es legalmente posible en los delitos contra la honestidad y no haya oposición de parte de los representantes legales de la menor y del Patronato Nacional de la Infancia.

Article 200 Guatemala: En los delitos comprendidos en los capítulos I, II, III y IV anteriores, la responsabilidad penal del sujeto activo o la pena, en su caso, quedarán extinguidas por el legítimo matrimonio de la víctima con el ofensor, siempre que aquélla fuere mayor de doce años y, en todo caso, con la previa aprobación del Ministerio Público.

Article 196 Nicaragua: Si la persona agraviada contrae matrimonio con el ofensor o le otorga su perdón, se suspende el procedimiento y queda extinguida la pena impuesta. Si fuere menor de dieciséis años el perdón sólo podrá otorgarlo su representante legal.

Article 225 Panama: En los casos de los Artículos 219 y 222, quedará extinguida la acción o la pena, según sea el caso, cuando el autor contraiga matrimonio con la ofendida. Los efectos de la extinción alcanzan a todos los partícipes.

Article 78 Peru (repealed 1997): La acción penal se extingue, en los casos que sólo proceda la acción privada, por desestimiento o transacción, y, en los delitos contra la libertad y el honor sexuales, por matrimonio subsiguiente.

Article 116 Uruguay (repealed 2006): El matrimonio del ofensor con la ofendida extingue el delito o la pena en su caso, tratándose de los delitos de violación, atentado violento al pudor, estupro o rapto.

Article 395 Venezuela: El culpable de alguno de los delitos previstos en los artículos 375, 376, 377, 379, 388, 389 y 390 quedará exento de pena si antes de la condenación contrae matrimonio con la persona ofendida, y el juicio cesará de todo punto en todo lo que se relacione con la penalidad correspondiente a estos hechos punibles. Si el matrimonio se efectúa después de la condenación, cesarán entonces la ejecución de las penas y sus consecuencias penales. Los reos de seducción, violación o rapto serán condenados, por vía de indemnización civil, si no se efectuare el matrimonio, a dotar a la ofendida si fuere soltera o viuda y, en todo caso, honesta.

2. Although Morocco has been a focal point concerning “rape-marriage” following the Amina Filali tragedy, Article 475 (which has been at the center of the debate), was adopted verbatim from French law (which was also applied in Morocco prior to its independence). The punishment for rape is specified in Article 486 of the Moroccan code, and does not contain a marriage clause as with other countries. Although unclear, it does not seem likely that modified versions of Napoleonic law, adopted by dozens of countries today (including Article 326 in Algeria), features a rape-marriage provision. Although, it cannot be definitively ruled out. Therefore, at this time, Morocco and Algeria will not be included in this analysis. Although, like the Libya testimony featured at the beginning of this post, it is probable that the cultural attitudes which exist alongside rape-marriage laws are alive and well in Morocco, and could indeed be present in the attitudes of judges or prosecutors. There is also the possibility that, given the difficult historical context and wording of Articles 354-357 of the French law (rapt de violence, and rapt de seduction), that Article 475 could be interpreted in ways used to justify notions of rape-marriage at the court level.

Article 356 France (repealed 1994): Celui qui, sans fraude ni violence, aura enlevé ou détourné, ou tenté d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de dix-huit ans, sera puni d’un emprisonnement de deux à cinq ans et d’une amende de 500 F à 15000 F. Lorsqu’une mineure ainsi enlevée ou détournée aura épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne pourra être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes qui ont qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne pourra être condamné qu’après que cette annulation aura été prononcée.

Article 475 Morocco: Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 à 500 dirhams. Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.

Article 326 Algeria: Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraude, enlevé ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner un mineur de dix huit ans, est puni d’un emprisonnent d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 500 à 2.000 DA. Lorsqu’une mineure ainsi enlevée ou détournée a epousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation a été prononcée.

3. Although originally drafted in 1904, the Egyptian penal code has undergone multiple drafts. I am unable to confirm the date at which the rape-marriage provision officially entered Egyptian law.

Although there is a 1936 Palestinian penal code, which does not appear to contain a rape-marriage clause, Jordanian penal law is applied in the West Bank, and Egyptian penal law in Gaza.

4. The Lebanese, Syrian, Libyan, Jordanian, and Iraqi codes contain a divorce clause after their mention of rape-marriage, which are not translated here. They specify that if the wife files a complaint and seeks a divorce, within three, or five years after marriage, that criminal proceedings, or sentencing, can be reinstated for the perpetrator. These clauses were not included because it would take up unnecessary space, and detract from the severity and centrality of the rape-marriage statutes. Moreover, they are not universal to rape-marriage laws. The cultural forces which condone marriage after rape are not going to accede to divorce thereafter. The divorce clauses have no bearing on the reality of rape-marriage laws, and their need for repeal. Despite this, the absence of this clause in the other penal codes sanctions not only the marriage of the victim with her attacker — but also the possibility of divorce without reinstatement of criminal proceedings, thus allowing the rapist to easily escape justice through marriage, and subsequently sever ties with the victim through a quick divorce. This simply adds another layer to the already unfathomable treatment of rape victims and the egregious adjudication of rape cases.

5. The ultimate origin of the Middle East and Latin America’s rape-marriage laws remains unclear to me. However, rape-marriage statutes have also existed in modern European law. Paragraph 5 of Article 197 of the Romanian penal code was only repealed in 2000:

Faptele prevăzute în alin. 1, 2 lit. b) şi c) şi alin. 3 teza I nu se pedepsesc dacă înainte ca hotărârea să fi rămas definitivă a intervenit căsătoria dintre autor şi victimă. În caz de participaţie, în alte condiţii decât aceea prevăzută în alin. 2 lit. a), căsătoria dintre autor şi victimă produce aceleaşi efecte şi faţă de participanţi.

In Italy, rape-marriage laws also existed. “Reparatory marriage,” or matrimonio riparatore — the formal name for the marriage taking place after rape — was abolished in 1981 (Article 544 of the 1931 Rocco Penal Code; Article 353 of the 1889 Zanardelli Code). For more dated European history, rape-marriage laws also existed in the Visigothic Code (Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medeival Europe, p. 133). These references only represent my limited knowledge — given the general trend, clearly there have been other modern and historical European rape-marriage laws.

The Middle East is simply one region of many in which law, history, and culture have combined to create or maintain the existence of rape-marriage laws. Although the legal and historical details remain unknown to me, it seems likely that rape-marriage laws, and the mindsets and sentiments that lead to them, have existed not only in Europe, but across broad swaths of human culture.

  1. October 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Where did you find all this information? I’ve been looking everywhere

  2. October 31, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Well, I’m a researcher. 🙂 I bring knowledge into existence.

    • October 31, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Do you think you could guide me in telling me where I should be looking? I’m very interested in rape marriage laws but I can’t find any books and I can only find a few articles online.

  3. October 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Well I wrote this article because there was really no place to look. No one had translated these laws or really discussed these issues before. I’m the first 🙂

    I mentioned two general sources in the article:

    1. Human Rights Watch, “A Threat to Society? The Arbitrary Detention of Women and Girls for ‘Social Rehabilitation'”

    2. Catherine Warrick, “Law in the Service of Legitimacy: Gender and Politics in Jordan”

    Both these were really the only works that discussed the laws in any real capacity.

    Beyond these, you basically just have to read the penal/criminal codes from Arab countries, and the commentaries on these codes written by law professors or legal professionals. Any commentary of significance I included in this article.

    Unfortunately in English and Arabic there is a real lack of scholarship about laws and legal issues in the Middle East, especially concerning human rights. That is why I felt an obligation to write this article and contribute the knowledge.

    If you speak Arabic and like doing research, there is a huge void to be filled in this area, and you could do a great service to humanity.

  4. October 31, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I do speak Arabic and I loved this so thank you so much for putting it together. I realized that there was such a gap when it came to these laws. That’s why I’m applying for a research grant to research these laws and also why I wanted to ask you where you looked because there is so little and I’m trying to find somewhere to start.

  5. October 31, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Unfortunately grants can be a tedious process and research that deserves to be done often isn’t. This article, for instance, hasn’t gotten a lot of reads despite being two years old. Research isn’t accessible or interesting for most people.

    However, feel free to contact me if you need more guidance or info — although all of what I found is in this article. Good luck!

  6. October 31, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I’m applying for grants through my school which will make it much easier. I’ve received a lot of support on this topic from the faculty and the board. Hopefully I will make some information available.

  7. October 31, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    One issue to steer you in the right direction…there is a lack of research concerning female detention facilities in Arab countries. This is touched on in the Libya report by HRW. For instance, a girl who runs away from home can be jailed, etc. There was also a TV report a few years back about such facilities in Afghanistan, where women who commit “moral crimes” are sent. They seem to be pretty ubiquitous across the Muslim world.

    It’s a huge black hole as far as knowledge goes.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: