This month, members of the Mozambique National Assembly will deliberate on proposed recommendations to the new Criminal Code of the country. The new bill almost sounds like it could be a plot twist from a satirical dystopian novel: it allows rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims.
This frightening reality is proposed in the Article 223 of the Mozambique Penal Code, on the ‘Effects of Marriage’. The Article explicitly states that, in cases of rape and sexual violation of a child 12 years or younger, an accused can put an end to the injured party’s litigation and pre-trial detention if he marries his victim. The action would continue in court for its final judgment, however, if there is a conviction, the penalty would be suspended as the aggressor has already married the victim. What is more is that the article does not just end there: if one is convicted, after five years of marriage, the sentence would lapse so long as the marriage does not result in divorce or legal separation.
Apparently, in Mozambique this practice is common under traditional customs, particularly in rural areas. In many patriarchal societies like Mozambique, women are often held responsible and stigmatized for the violence done against them. It is not uncommon for a woman or a girl who loses her virginity as a result of rape to be shunned by society for having brought the attack on herself. Rape survivors are further disgraced as their prospects of marriage decrease significantly afterwards. The shame and feelings of degradation associated with rape in such societies can become a factor in convincing family members to consider forced marriage with the rapist as a viable option.
This stigmatization is deeply ingrained in these societies and phenomena completely beyond our understanding often occur. For instance, some rape victims are murdered by their own relatives as the violation of these women’s chastity is viewed as an attack to the family’s honour and dignity. Such events are known as ‘honour killing victims’ and the United Nations Population Fund has estimated that the annual worldwide number of killing for family honour may be as high as 5,000 women.
Female relatives within these societies often support ‘honour killings’, as they believe that women are responsible for embodying the family’s honour. Therefore, rape victims often remain silent and refrain from seeking help because it is likely that they’ll have little or no support within their own circles. Additionally, they are afraid of the repercussions and lack of justice.
Another phenomenon is ‘honour suicides’: some women who have been victims of rape or sexual assaults take their own lives, due to mounting of family pressure and fear.
The worrying prospect of the application of this article is the effective permission of violation against children and the act of child marriages. This legislation deprives children under the age of 18 of special protection under the law. Adult women may have more authority to refuse to marry their attackers, even if there is pressure from the family to do so, but tender-aged rape victims may have nowhere to turn for help. They would not have any say in refusing a marriage as it is often in the interest of the families to keep their honour and dignity.
This custom will deprive women and young girls of their basic human rights. Additionally, these marriages will take place without the free or valid consent of the girl in question. Not to mention that marrying the rapist involves physical and emotional duress that will result in extremely devastating and traumatic experiences.
I am of the opinion that marriages under such circumstances are the extension of the crime of rape, whereby the rapist can continuously violate his ‘victim’. Instead of being punished, these rapists are provided impunity. Instead of being protected, these rape victims are being punished.