The Shura Council 'unanimously' repealed the controversial Article 353 of the Penal Code. It allowed rapists to avoid jail time by marrying the victim. For the Minister of Justice now 'they will not escape just punishment'. The rules must be updated 'as societies and cultures evolve'.
Manama (AsiaNews) - Bahrain has abolished Article 353 of the Penal Code, one of the most controversial and retrograde laws on human rights that until now allowed rapists to avoid trial and imprisonment by marrying the victim, who ended up being a rapist twice and with no possibility of opposing it.
Yesterday, the Shura Council (the upper house of the local parliament) voted "unanimously" to delete the rule, receiving applause from activists and pro-human rights groups who have fought against the legislation for years.
"Rapists will not escape just punishment," commented Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Nawaf Al Maawada during the parliamentary session. He went on to emphasise that 'Bahrain is a country with a traditional Muslim culture' but one that at the same time shows 'respect' for other religions, as evidenced by the recent visit of Pope Francis. "Governments," he concluded, "must study and update the regulatory framework as societies and cultures evolve".
The controversy around reparatory marriage is still an open and unresolved issue in many nations of the Middle East area and, in general, in the Muslim world, as the chronicles in Bangladesh show. Bahrain is the latest country in the region to abolish laws or amend penal codes that allowed rapists to avoid prosecution simply by agreeing to marry their victims.
In 2017, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia repealed similar regulations in their legal systems. In the opposite direction is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 'nationalism and Islam' Turkey, which, in 2020, tried to reintroduce the reparative marriage abolished in 2005 four years (2016) after the previous attempt.
However, a popular uprising led by women blocked the bill, which according to activist groups and NGOs only served to 'hide' the increasing number of cases of violence against women and feminicide.
Nancy Khedouri, a member of the Shoura Council and the Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Committee that led the repeal process speaks of an important decision that could no longer be postponed.
The text in force in the past, she points out to The National, 'put rape victims in a worse situation than rapists' with reparative marriages that allowed them to 'escape the law and just punishment'. Hala Al Ansari, secretary-general of the Bahrain Supreme Council for Women, points out that 'the abolition of Article 353 of the Penal Code is in line with the provisions of Article 24 of the Family Law and Article 27'.
Both points, she continues, require that marriages be the result of 'consent between the parties'. The vote relieves women 'of any pressure that might lead them to accept a fait accompli in the event of aggression'.
UN Resident Coordinator in Bahrain Khaled El Mekwad, applauds the decision to repeal the rule taken by the Shura Council, speaking of a "historic reform" that will strengthen "the protection of the fundamental rights of women and girls" in the country.
"Article 353 of the penal code represented a further challenge that ended up punishing the victim, instead of protecting her, by forcing her to marry someone who had committed a crime against her. All this," he concludes, "ended up degrading her dignity, depriving her of basic rights such as that of choosing a life partner, and violating the pillar of consent as a condition for the validity of the contract."