Campaigners against gender violence in Lebanon have voiced caution after MPs agreed to work to revoke a nearly 70-year-old law allowing rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victim.
A parliamentary committee agreed on Wednesday to work to scrap article 522 of the penal code, which forgives rape, statutory rape and kidnapping if the perpetrator marries their victim.
The decision was largely applauded by politicians and citizens alike including prime minister Saad Hariri, who tweeted: “We will be waiting for the completion of the civilised step at the beginning of the first parliamentary session.”
“They have not voted yet, so we cannot say it has been repealed,” said Maya Ammar, communications coordinator of Kafa, which works against gender violence and the exploitation of women.
About a dozen Lebanese women, dressed in white wedding dresses stained with fake blood and bandages, held a protest on Tuesday outside government buildings in Beirut against the law.
Some of these laws have been overturned, but only recently. It was not until 2011 that article 562 of the penal code – which limited punishments for people who murdered relatives to protect their family’s “honour” – was revoked.
Meanwhile, marital rape is not yet fully criminalised.
Lebanon is not alone in the Middle East in still allowing rapists to go free if they marry their victim: Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain all have similar laws in their penal codes. Morocco repealed such a law in 2014.
Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim defended the draft law, saying “the proposal aims to remedy unjust suffering” caused when those ignorant of the law get married as minors and see their husbands carted off to prison.