The ordeal of a 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped and raped repeatedly for three days has infuriated Jordanians, especially when her attacker agreed to marry her to avoid going to jail.
In conservative Muslim societies like Jordan, rapists can walk free thanks to Article 308 of the Penal Code, known as the “rape law.”
In April, the unidentified girl was shopping in the northern city of Zarqa when a 19-year-old man kidnapped her, took her to the desert where he had a pitched a tent and raped her for three consecutive days, judicial sources said.
Police found the girl during a routine patrol, drove her back to her family home and arrested the man. Within days news emerged that he had agreed to marry the girl, while all charges against him have been dropped.
Earlier this month, another girl, aged 15, was talked into following a young man to an empty apartment in Amman where she was also raped.
Judicial sources say the young man is now desperately trying to work out an arrangement with her family to marry her, to avoid going to jail. Article 308 allows rape charges to be dropped if the perpetrator agrees to marry the victim. He cannot divorce the woman for five years.
“This article of the law not only helps perpetrators walk free, it rewards them by allowing them to marry their victims, who get punished ... for God knows what,” said Nadia Shamrukh, head of the Jordanian Women’s Union.
“By applying this law, another crime is committed. How can this 14-year-old girl, who is a minor anyway, marry her rapist? Can you imagine this?” Shamrukh said.
The rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by death in Jordan, which recorded 379 cases of rape in 2010, according to court documents.
“In one case, we tried so hard to prevent a rapist from marrying an 18-year-old girl, who did not want to end up being his wife,” said Eva Abu Halaweh, a lawyer and human rights activist who heads law group Mizan.
“But the girl’s father struck a deal with the unemployed rapist, who was already married to another woman and had six children. He was unable to provide for his family and his wife was a beggar,” she said.
Abu Halaweh said the law is “inefficient anyway.”
“It should be scrapped. What if a girl gets raped by more than one man? In this case, Article 308 will fail to address the problem,” she said.
However, Israa Tawalbeh, Jordan’s first woman coroner, sees “nothing wrong in Article 308 as such.”
“The problem is how some local and international human rights groups interpret the law,” she said.
“Actual rape cases are rare in our society. Sometimes, girls under 18 lose their virginity to force their families to accept marriage to their boyfriends. The law categorizes this as rape,” she said.
Tawalbeh said the law “solves problems for some.”
“Accepting marriage under Article 308 is better than leaving girls to be killed by their parents or relatives,” she said.
“I think the law fits our society and reality. It protects the girls by forcing attackers to marry them,” she said.
In Jordan, between 15 and 20 women are murdered annually in the name of “honor” and at least six such killings have been reported so far this year, authorities said. Murder is punishable by death, but in “honor killings,” courts sometimes commute or reduce sentences.
However, Hani Jahshan, who is a forensic pathologist and physician at the health ministry and the Family Protection Directorate, has a quite different view of Article 308.