Morocco Criminalizes Violence Against Women

Morocco has finally criminalized violence against women which is being praised as a progressive step for women’s rights, yet further reform is still needed. Law no. 103-13 criminalizes some forms of domestic violence, establishes prevention measures, provides new protections for survivors, and tougher penalties for offenders. Despite these positive reforms, the law is only the first step in fully criminalizing violence against women as it suffers from a number of loopholes, which still leave women vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In particular, the law fails in providing financial assistance for survivors and does not define the government’s role in providing support, finances, and services to victims. The law also provides a definition of violence against women to mean “any act based on gender discrimination that entails physical, psychological, sexual, or economic harm to a woman” but fails to provide a definition of domestic violence and does not explicitly criminalize marital rape. Survivors must file criminal prosecution to obtain protection, which few Moroccan women have the finances and support to do. The duties of police, prosecutors and investigative judges in domestic violence cases are also not explicitly set out. Funding for women’s shelters are also ignored.

Rothna Begum, a Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch reported that “Morocco’s law on violence against women finally recognizes some forms of abuse that many women face from their husbands and families. But Morocco should address gaps to ensure that all survivors are protected from abuse, and that police and prosecutors do their jobs.” Begum continued that “protecting women and girls from domestic violence requires not only legal changes but funding and political support for enforcement and services. Morocco’s government has taken an initial positive step in adopting this law, but now it should implement it and extend further protections.”

Violence against women in Morocco is both widespread and extremely taboo. For this law to be effective, the government needs to do its part in ending this taboo. The government must focus on these loopholes to ensure that all women feel protected by the law. Funding of women’s shelters is also very needed in supporting women and eradicating taboo thinking. Human Rights Watch reported that there are fewer than 10 shelters in Morocco that accept domestic violence survivors, with all having limited capacity. All are operated by non-governmental groups with only a few receiving government funding. The Moroccan government needs to ensure that non-government groups are efficiently funded to help support survivors as well as identifying duties of police and government bodies.

In 2009, a national survey reported that 62.8 percent of Moroccan women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, or economic abuse. 55 percent of interviewees reported “conjugal” violence and 13.5 percent reported “familial” violence. According to Al Jazeera, violence against women has become a “hot issue” since August 2017 after a video was posted online showing a young woman on a bus being sexually molested by a group of boys while the driver and passengers ignored her appeals for help. AFP news agency reported that 1,600 cases of rape were heard by the Moroccan courts in 2017 which was twice as many as the previous years.

Morocco’s new law should be praised, but its praises should not offset the fact that further work needs to be done to ensure that all women have full access to justice.

Katrina Hope