In the aftermath of the deadliest earthquake to hit Morocco in over 120 years, concerns over the safety of children, especially young girls, are mounting following a disturbing online campaign encouraging child abuse.
In Morocco, young girls, particularly from rural poor families are often sold into marriages, while others take jobs as maids in cities, often falling pregnant from their employers who trick them with promises of marriage. In the days which followed the earthquake there were growing concerns that the desperate situation many poor, rural families found themselves in would result with their daughters being abused.
It didn’t take long for the concerns to become very real worries, with on line photos of children being exploited.
Among the torrent of online posts from volunteers depicting the everyday life of an earthquake, one post soon became infamous among activists. The post on Instagram depicts a young man taking a selfie with a child with the caption: “She didn’t want to come with me to Casa, but then after, she whispered in my ear that when she grows up, she’ll marry me.”
Another equally infamous post on Facebook shows the picture of three young girls who lost their parents in the earthquake, the oldest of which is 10. Attached to the post is a long text appealing to young men to avoid “city girls” who want men to have “a house and car” and head instead to mountainous regions to marry young girls who will “ask for nothing.”
The post was soon after deleted following backlash from Moroccan netizens. Similar posts were shared across all social media before the police department arrested a 20-year-old college student on September 14, under charges of “inciting sexual assault against minors.”
Others soon took notice, as similar posts were soon retracted online, with one netizen who became famous for a post where he promoted underage marriage under the guise of Shariaa laws, deleting his social media account.
One day following the arrest of the male suspected of promoting child abuse online, King Mohammed VI declared that all children who lost their parents during the earthquake have the special designation of Ward of the Nation.
The special status is usually given to children who lose their parents in wartimes, and natural disasters. Under the designation, the children receive direct protection and financial support from the government.
On September 13, the National Committee for the Fight against Human Trafficking launched a free-toll number to report child abuse.