Lebanon Joins The Ranks: Another Country Repeals Controversial Rape Law After Campaigns

After much campaigning, Lebanon’s Parliament finally abolished a law this Wednesday that allowed rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, Al Jazeera reports.

Parliament came to its final decision this week after a vote, six months after the proposal to repeal Article 522 was finally approved by the parliamentary committee. In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the National News Agency and NGO ABAAD, which lead the campaign to repeal the much-reviled article, congratulated women in Lebanon by saying that “It is no longer possible to escape punishment for rape and sexual acts carried out by force and coercion.”

According to Lebanese law, rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison, more if the victim is mentally or physically disabled. However, Article 522 also adds that if the rapist marries the victim, criminal prosecution may be avoided, giving rapists an incentive to tie the knot. Although there is no precise number on how many rapists took note of this article and married their victims to avoid punishment, activists say that the practice mainly took place in rural areas.

The proposal to repeal Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code, which deals with assault, rape, kidnapping, and forced marriage, was introduced last year following years of campaigning by women’s rights advocates. The law, which has been in place since the 1940s, was initially written to protect the victim and her family’s “honour” by covering up the rape. It was also used to ensure that the victim could be married and taken care of later on, financially, as her marital prospects following being raped would be considered to be diminished due to the loss of her virginity, despite it being involuntary. Hence, some victims have been coerced into disturbing unions with their rapists by their own families. However, this only leads to further trauma for the victim and causes her to lose her dignity, and is, therefore, considered by many to be a flagrant human rights violation. Furthermore, women in such situations are more likely to experience domestic violence, and younger victims are more likely to deal with the dangers of early pregnancy. As such, women’s rights activists in Lebanon had upped the pressure to repeal such a law. Their most recent campaign involved posting billboards of women in bloodied and torn wedding gowns, with captions reading: “A white dress does not cover the rape.” As such, the repealing of Article 522 is an excellent example of how continuous activism and public pressure can eventually lead to a positive change within a society.

With that said, it appears that one by one, the draconian “marry-your-rapist” laws are falling. For instance, Lebanon’s decision comes just over two weeks after Jordan’s Parliament repealed its own controversial rape law. Likewise, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, Equador, France, Guatemala, Italy, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Romania, Tunisia, and Uruguay have also cancelled similar articles in their penal codes over the years. Like the NGO ABADD declared, “Today’s win is a victory for the dignity of women.”

That being said, it is definitely not the end of the struggle as similar articles remain active in Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Tajikistan, the Philippines, as well as in several South American countries, according to Human Rights Watch. It is appalling that women in some countries, having been coerced into sexual acts, are still being coerced into marriages with the men who hurt them in the first place, the very men who may not be marrying their victims if they did not have such an incentive from the law. Thus, the hope is, following Lebanon’s latest move, as well as the continued activism and pressure from the public, that it push other countries to abolish their “marry-your-rapist” laws.