Lebanon has joined a number of other Arab states in scrapping a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims.
Lawmakers voted on Wednesday to repeal an article of the Lebanese penal code that deals with rape, assault, kidnapping and forced marriage. Jordan and Tunisia banned similar laws this year.
Article 522 includes a provision that allows rapists to avoid criminal prosecution if they marry their victim. Its abolition follows a lengthy campaign by activists.
“Congratulations to women in Lebanon,” the NGO Abaad wrote on its Facebook page. “Today’s win is a victory for the dignity of women. It is no longer possible to escape punishment for rape and sexual acts carried out by force and coercion.”
Abaad campaigned against article 522 for more than a year. It posted billboards of women in bloodied and torn wedding gowns with the caption: “A white dress does not cover the rape.”
There are no precise records of the number of rapists who married their victims to avoid punishment. Activists say the practice mainly took place in rural areas.
“This is a very positive and long overdue development for the protection of women’s rights in Lebanon,” said Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“At the same time in Lebanon there are several long overdue women’s rights developments that we still have to tackle. So parliament should … immediately pass legislation to end marital rape and also child marriage, which is still legal in Lebanon,” he said.
Rights groups hope the momentum will influence other Arab countries with similar provisions – such as Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Syria – to follow suit.
Some countries in the region have closed similar loopholes. Egypt repealed the law in 1999, and Morocco in 2014 after the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the attempted suicide of a 15-year-old, both of whom had been forced to marry their rapists.