A shocking trial of three men accused of raping an 11 year old girl is stirring a lot of anger among Moroccans with the on going debate about legalizing abortion likely to gain some ground. But the heart of the problem is corruption as it is the courts where the real story is found
A Moroccan court this week will decide whether three child rapists can have their sentences reduced with a possibility even of the young girl being charged with unlawful sex, experts have told Maghrebi.
Moroccan citizens the length of the country are shocked that three child rapists have been given only a two year prison sentence – one of whom impregnated the 11 year old girl who gave birth after following what Moroccan media are calling a “repetitive” rape.
The case is expected to fan the embers of an abortion debate which has been raging, with civil rights groups calling for abortion to be allowed in cases of rape and is likely to draw the attention of human rights groups in Europe and the US.
According to Moroccan press the three men, on March 20 were initially sentenced but are fighting a legal case which will be heard on April 13 at an appeal court in Rabat which could have their sentences reduced – in a case which is drawing thousands to the streets in the Moroccan capital.
The horrific ordeal that “Sanae” had to ordeal happened two years ago in the northern town of Tiflet and very nearly was never revealed, if it weren’t for the birth of her child nine months later which her parents are raising while she continues her schooling. According to local reports, the three men threatened to kill the family if they ever went to the police, before it became apparent that Sanae was expecting a child after the ordeal.
Her story is a tragic one of poverty as she was left in the house alone each Wednesday while her father went to a local market. She was repeatedly raped initially by a young 20 year old man, but then two others on other Wednesdays – one man who brought with him his niece who witnessed the violation. A third is believed to be a neighbour.
On March 2022, Sanae gave birth to a baby boy with no idea then who the father was (a court initiated DNA tests which later revealed his identity).
Morocco is considered advanced in the Arab world for women’s rights with a special code adopted in 2004 and so human rights groups here, along with many concerned citizens are left aghast by the lenient sentence handed to the three, with some even suspecting corruption at play given the level of bribery openly acknowledged to be present in most courts in Morocco.
In theory, for such cases of rape of minors, Moroccan law could give a sentence of up to twenty years. And so the lenient sentences – with two suspects ordered to pay around 2000 USD each and a third around 3000 USD – have angered and confused many in this north African modern Islamic country.
On Wednesday 5th April, thousands took to the streets to protest the ruling. But even more hue and cry was to be found on social media sites.
“Who are we if we are to accept that paedophiles do not pay for their crime if we tolerate that a twelve year old child bears alone the weight of a patriarchy that relieves men of their responsibility for their paternity and punishes the children of these fathers?” asks the Moroccan historian Yasmine Chami.
Elisabeth R Myers, a US attorney who lives in Morocco and an expert on women’s rights was also shocked by the decision and warns that the victim may even face criminal charges herself.
“This young girl has been traumatized, terrorized, and now having borne a child out of wedlock, her life has been shattered” she told Sun on line. “Ironically, and disgustingly, the young girl may now even be subject to prosecution for having had sex outside of marriage, which is still a criminal offense in Morocco regardless of whether rape is involved”.
“The criminal code provides for sentences of up to ten and twenty years in prison for each of the crimes committed by these adult men, which if added up could have amounted to decades in prison, and yet the judge saw fit to give them only a slap on the wrist” she added.
A press release written by the Socialist Women Organisation also slams the decision by the first court which only gave 18 months sentences to two of the accused, with a further 6 months suspended.
Morocco’s justice minister (above) told journalists that he was “shocked” by the court’s decision. Abdellatif Ouahbi told journalists that his ministry was “determined to increase the maximum sentences in such cases of rape against minors in a new penal code”.
Child rape in Morocco is more common than many believe. Most cases rarely ever get any public scrutiny or police investigations due to the shame on the victim’s family. In March 2021, Mail on Line reported a similar case of a young girl in Fes who was repeatedly raped by family members and a neighbour, breaking taboos in Morocco by posting a video monologue detailing her horrific ordeal.
Abortion is also an issue.
Sanae’s family may have considered abortion when they went to the police on March 2022, if abortion were legal in Morocco – or chosen the root of many by seeking a doctor to perform a back street abortion, often in basements of doctor’s own houses. The subject of abortion in Morocco is a polemic as just recently a 14 year old girl called Meriem died during a back street abortion whose numbers have grown so much in recent years that some estimate that clandestine abortions are well over 200,000 a year.
The heated debate over abortion has flared in Morocco after a 14-year-old identified as Meriem died following a clandestine pregnancy termination in a rural village.
The founder of the Moroccan Association Against Clandestine Abortion adds his voice to calls for the legalization of the procedure.
“It (abortion legislation) is an absolute emergency because we are witnessing the consequences of not being able to have legal abortions on a daily basis”, Dr Chafik Chraibi said.
“You know about little Meriem who died, it was very well publicised, but there are many others and we can see the consequences that I mentioned: suicides, honour killings, doctors who go to jail, all of this. It’s an urgent matter.”
Unless a pregnancy endangers a woman’s health, Moroccan women undergoing abortions face up to two years in jail, while those assisting them risk five years’ imprisonment.
“This [rape] case highlights the need to reform Morocco’s abortion law and criminal law to protect the health of women and girls so they can get the assistance they need and criminals are held accountable for their heinous crimes” added Myers.