Jordan’s draconian rape law still punishes the victims

One of the crimes worse than rape is a system that allows the rapist to walk away.

Yara al-Wazir
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This week, it was reported that Jordan has expressed intention to abolish penal code-308, a law that permits rapists to get away with their crimes by marrying their victims.

While these reports have been disputed, with government sources saying a change to the law may not be considered right now, abolishing such a system would be the first step towards progression and recapturing the rights of young rape victims.


But sadly, the step taken by the Jordanian government wouldn’t even count as a baby step.

The law is a prime example of the broken judiciary systems that prevail in the Middle East – laws are passed but not implemented; intentions are made but never delivered. It’s the classic game of throwing the public a fruit symbolizing false hope, only for the public to later discover that the fruit is rotten.

In 2008, a member of the Kuwaiti parliament expressed interest in drafting a law that will abolish the ‘kafeel’ (sponsorship) system for expatriates – six years later it still exists. A legal system filled with false promises does not aid anyone but the perpetrator. In Jordan, one of the crimes worse than rape is the system that allows the rapist to walk away.

Why laws like this still exist

Sadly, this crime sheds a cruel light on the deeper issue in the Middle East – the ideology that the virginity of a woman is the deciding factor of her worth. A girl’s value mustn’t be determined by her purity or virginity. A man’s value, however, can be determined by the crimes he commits.

One of the crimes worse than rape is a system that allows the rapist to walk away

Yara al-Wazir

Lawmakers in the country have defended this law in the past, saying it is a form of protection of the rape victims from being out casted by society. Jordan’s first female coroner, Isra Tawalbeh, stated: “Accepting marriage under Article 308 is better than leaving girls to be killed by their parents or relatives.”

But marriage does not save victims from honor crimes, primarily because there is no honor in honor crimes.

If it is ‘honor crimes’ that the government is worried about, then why not address those separately?

This ‘law’ is treating a symptom rather than the root cause.

More needs to be done, now

Indeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Rome was built on a solid foundation. When the judicial system of a country rewards perpetrators, then it is clear that its foundation is unstable, and action needs to be taken – fast. A clear guideline on how the government intends to amend penal code 308 must be issued, with clear intentions. The rights of victims of rape must be protected, and perpetrators must be prosecuted, not the other way round.

An issue like this should not be swept under the rug or delayed due to the lack of clear statistics on rape victims, or the belief that ‘not enough people suffer’ for it to be documented or changed.

Even if one rape victim is forced marry her attacker, then that should be enough for the government to confront the draconian law. In 2010 alone, 379 rape cases were recorded in court documents. A set timeline must be issued. Rapists must no longer be allowed to walk free, nor should their victims be forced to marry their attackers under the blanket of ‘societal expectations’. They’ve already been through enough.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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