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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Jordan parliament repeals 'marry the rapist' clause

Cheers erupted from the spectators' gallery as legislators narrowly voted to scrap the provision following an emotional debate

Activists protest in front of Jordan's parliament in Amman on August 1, 2017, calling on legislators to repeal a provision that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim. Reem Saad / AP
Activists protest in front of Jordan's parliament in Amman on August 1, 2017, calling on legislators to repeal a provision that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim. Reem Saad / AP

The lower house of Jordan's parliament on Tuesday scrapped a provision in the kingdom's penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.

Cheers erupted from the spectators' gallery as legislators narrowly voted for repeal following an emotional debate. It was seen as a major victory for women's rights in the kingdom after years of campaigning by activists.

In Tuesday's debate, some MPs had argued that an amended version of Article 308 was needed to protect rape victims against social stigma by giving them the marriage option.

But in the end, lawmakers voted in line with the recommendations of the government and a royal committee on legal reforms.

The decision must still be approved by parliament's appointed upper house, or senate, and by King Abdullah II. After the expected final approval, Jordan will join Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt which have cancelled their own "marry the rapist" clauses over the years.

Lebanon's parliament is also considering repealing such a provision.

Ahead of Tuesday's vote, several dozen activists rallied outside the parliament in Amman, calling for repeal. They held up banners reading "Article 308 is a disgrace to the Jordanian justice system" and "Article 308 does not protect honour, it protects the culprit".

Salma Nims, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, said before the vote that many of the MPs had been undecided.

She said some saw the provision as a form of "protection" for women who can demand marriage rather than suffer further social stigma for having been raped.

The need for such "protection" indicates a fundamental problem in how Jordanian law and society perceive women, said Eva Abu Halaweh, executive manager of Mizan for Law, a human rights group.

"The law still looks at women as bodies, linked with 'honour'."