Lebanon takes first step to abolish marriage rape law

Bloodied brides protest ancient rape law
Bloodied brides protest ancient rape law

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Story highlights

  • Law says if a man rapes an unmarried woman he can avoid prosecution if he marries the victim
  • A parliamentary committee has agreed to push forward with a plan that would abolish the law

(CNN)Lebanese lawmakers on Wednesday took the first step to overturn a law that allows rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims. The move came a day after protesters wearing fake-blood-stained wedding gowns confronted lawmakers just steps away from Parliament in the capital Beirut.

After a scheduled review of Article 522 of the penal code, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri tweeted that a parliamentary committee had agreed to push forward with a plan that would abolish the law.
    Article 522 states that if a man rapes an unmarried woman he can avoid prosecution for the crime if he marries the victim.
    Hariri praised the committee's decision. "We await the completion of this civilized step in the nearest legislative session," he told state-run news agency NNA.
    Samy Gemayel, president of the Kataeb political party, also welcomed the move and said he hoped for fast approval at Parliament's general assembly, according to NNA.
    Activists on Tuesday rallied near Parliament to denounce the law. Participants, who dressed as beaten brides, said the action was a visual reminder that for many women who are the victims of rape, what comes next may be worse than the rape itself.
    Beirut-based rights group ABAAD, which has long lobbied against Article 522 through a grassroots and online media campaign, organized the protest.
    In Lebanon, among other Middle Eastern countries, rape is seen as an mark against a woman's, and her family's, honor, ABAAD's Saja Michael told CNN. Victims of rape can be forced to carry that stigma with them for the rest of their lives. Rape survivors are sometimes pushed to marry their attacker as a way to preserve their honor and lead a "normal" life.
    "Marriages that takes place after rape has occurred offer a short-term fix as a type of protection," Michael said. For ABAAD, abolishing Article 522 is "about the criminalization of rape. The law should not be on the side of the rapist, it should be on the side of the survivor."
    A Facebook post from ABAAD praised the news out of Parliament.
    "Congratulations to all the women and girls in the Lebanese territory," ABAAD said. "The Committee for Administration and Justice has agreed to repeal Article 522 from the Lebanese Criminal Penal Code and more details will be discussed regarding the remaining articles next Wednesday."
    While activists wait for details to be released, ABAAD's Michael said there is still more work to be done. She said abolishing Article 522 would be a great start, but for things to really change in Lebanon it's important that her group continues to work with communities on the ground.
    "It's a social issue that must be addressed. We will continue to work with parents, helping to differentiate the act of rape as a crime. Rapists should be punished, that's what we're aiming for."