March 10, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1331

Tunisians Protest Law That Allows Men Who Rape Underage Girls To Marry Their Victims Instead Of Being Punished

March 10, 2017 | By D. Hazan
Tunisia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1331

On December 13, 2016, a lower court in northwestern Tunisia granted a 21-year-old man legal permission to marry a 13-year-old girl he had raped and impregnated. The court decision was in accordance with Article 227(a) of the Tunisian criminal code, which states that if a rapist weds his victim, all legal proceedings in the rape case against him are terminated.[1] It should be noted that in Tunisia, the age of consent for sexual relations is 13.

The court decision sparked a wave of anger and criticism in Tunisia, with calls for revoking the rapist's authorization to marry his victim and for him to be subjected to the penalty stipulated by law. Politicians, legal experts, and members of various social circles even called for striking Article 227(a) from the criminal code. On December 14, 2016, protestors demonstrated outside the Tunisian parliament building to demand this.

"We demand the elimination of Article 277(a)" (image: "rape is a crime" Twitter hashtag)


"How I met your mother – I raped her when she was 13" (image: "rape is a crime" Twitter hashtag)

Tunisian human rights organizations were also harshly critical of the court decision, arguing that it disregards international treaties on human rights and children's rights, violates the Tunisian law that protects children's rights, and encourages more sexual assault. The organizations demanded the immediate amendment of Article 227(a) because it gives "privileges to the attacker at the expense of the victim." The Tunisian Ministry of Women and Family Affairs promised to provide the girl with counseling and to work to reintegrate her into society.[2]

Op-eds attacking Article 227(a) also appeared in the Tunisian press. Journalist Malak Al-Qatri told "The rape law is a disgrace for Tunisia and shames its judiciary, which is wronging children." She added that allowing a rapist to marry his victim means that there could be more child rapes because of the judiciary itself.[3] Additionally, several hashtags were launched on social media calling for removing Article 227(a).

Following popular and civil society pressure, Tunisian Justice Minister Ghazi Al-Jeribi announced, on December 14, that the prosecutor general would file an objection to the legal authorization that was granted to the rapists to marry the girl. He added that Tunisia is working to change laws that predate the 2011 revolution so as to bring them into line with the new 2014 constitution.[4]

Following are excerpts from articles and social media posts on this issue:


Tunisian Journalist: It Is Sad That Underage Girls Are Raped In The Free And Honorable Tunisia

In the Tunisian e-daily Al-Sahafah, Tunisian journalist Na'ima Al-Qadri wrote that rape is one of the most heinous crimes, especially when it involves children. She called on the Tunisian authorities to deal with this matter legally and to ensure personal safety: "The luster and magic and a 13-year-old girl's childhood are murdered by rape by a young man who is definitely of the age of legal responsibility but who appears to be at the age of anarchy, stupidity, carelessness, and animalism. This incident sears the heart, making it bleed... It is also devastating because of the profound impact it will have on the soul of this girl... who will never forget it, especially because she became pregnant [as a result]...

"It is sad that this happened in the era of the free and honorable Tunisia – the new Tunisia... the age of human rights and personal liberties... Human rights include the rights of women and children, and opposition to the torture and despicable exploitation of the other in every aspect of social life... Therefore, the decision to legally allow an attacker to marry his rape victim is shameful. This formula whitewashes the dangerous barbarism of this incident.

"Eliminating violence against women or children will not [be achieved by] verbal moral opposition to this aggression, or by forced divorce, but rather by action against sick individuals who roam freely in Tunisian society, like dogs mercilessly devouring corpses. Rape is one of the most heinous crimes in advanced societies and [people] must be protected from it, on the level of [personal] safety and on the legal level, just as society is protected from crimes against humanity – and all the more so when it concerns the rape of children."[5]

Tunisian Writer: Tunisian Criminal Code Should Be In Line With Constitutional Principles And Human Rights

Tunisian journalist Ziad Krichan attacked Tunisia's criminal code, particularly Article 227(a), in the Tunisian daily Al-Maghreb. Calling to "end this legal, moral, and social outrage," he wrote: "The Tunisia criminal code includes several laws that are unrelated to the spirit of the constitution and liberty and equality among citizens, including a group of articles – from 227 to 230 – under the title 'Indecent Assault.'

Ziad Krichan (

"[Article 227] states that 'anyone who has sexual relations with a woman against her will using – or threatening to use – violence or weapons; and anyone who rapes a child under 10 years of age, face the death penalty.' Article 227 also states that anyone who forces sexual relations on a girl-child over 10 years of age faces life in prison, but adds a chilling sentence: 'If the victims is under 13 years of age, then her consent [to sexual relations] is invalid.' This means that the Tunisian legislator has decided that the age to consent or refuse sexual relations is 13, which contradicts the explicit language of the code of children's rights and the general principles set out in the constitution.

"Article 227(a) sets a penalty of six years in prison for anyone who [forces] sexual relations on a girl under 15 years of age, and five years in prison for anyone who [forces] sexual relations on a girl between 15 and 20, and adds this outrageous sentence: 'The marriage of the criminal and the victim in these two cases will terminate all investigations or legal consequences.'

"The strange thing is that the first part of Article [227(a)], on which the court in Al-Kef [province] relied when it gave a 13-year-old girl in marriage [to her rapist], does not even refer to rape, since Article 227 clearly states that someone who rapes a woman [even] without the use of violence or weapons faces life in prison. Despite this, anyone who rapes a minor has generally benefitted from Article 227(a)... because the judge is no longer clarifying the original crime of rape, but settling for obtaining [the victim's] guardian's consent to marriage so as to thwart any striving for justice. In such a case, the rapist wins twice: Once when he is downgraded from Article 227, which includes penalties that are highly deterrent, to Article 227(a), which implicitly but effectively downgrades him from a rapist to a person engaging in 'sexual relations'; and again when he evades a prison sentence because of this 'marriage,' provided that does not initiate divorce proceedings for two years. But where is the girl's protection? What deters the crime of rape?

"Tunisian law also differentiates raping a woman from sodomizing a woman or a man, because Articles 228 and 228(a) dictate lighter sentences for this kind of rape, which is no less heinous than the first kind. The meaning of this distinction is unclear, except that only one of them could result in pregnancy. That is, in terms of a Dark Ages mentality, the honor of the female or male rape victim are secondary.

"It is time to end this legal, moral, and social outrage, and to bring our criminal code into line with the principles of the constitution and human rights, so that they provide serious protection for the weaker sectors – particularly children – instead of leniency for criminals on the pretext of 'defending family honor.' Honor and nobility lie first and foremost in protection of the victims – and not in forcing them to cohabit with their hangmen."[6]

Tunisian Researcher: The Minor's Family Is Responsible For The Rapist's Evading Punishment

As noted, criticism of the court ruling and of Article 227(a) was also circulated on social media. On his Facebook page, Tunisian researcher Sami Brahem criticized the practice of wedding a rapist to his victim, and added that the victim's family was to blame for this happening: "In the matter of a minor, her consent means nothing... It is her family that consents to the marriage [of her and the rapist], and might even demand it, to fight the shame [of the rape], while the rapist agrees to marry her in order to avoid going to prison. But the crime of soliciting a minor remains, even though the law disregards it.

Brahem Sami's Facebook post

"Such forced marriages, arranged by the families [of the rapist and of the underage victim], under the auspices of the legal system, allows the [victim's] family – now an accessory to the crime – to maintain its good name, while [the victim is sacrificed by] marriage to the man who violated her childhood and becomes a mother responsible for a family... and the wound will continue to fester within her.

"Such marriages nearly always end in humiliating divorce and in shame, to both families... and the child, made mature before her time, continues to pay the price of these forced marriages... The greatest crime is the avoidance of punishment and defending the criminal, and those who are responsible for this horrible crime more than anyone is the family that first neglected its daughter, making her a target for rape, and later held her responsible for [the family's] own negligence, and handed her over to her hangman...

"This is not a legislative or legal debate. It is a moral, cultural, social, legal, and humanitarian debate. The problem also lies in the male mentality, and the false honor that prevents a man from marrying a woman who meets all the conditions of marriage but is a victim of rape, seduction, or past courtship. According to our code of honor, a man is enthralled with the idea of heroically breaking a hymen, even one that has been mended. According to our code of honor, a man sees a woman [who was raped] as responsible for her rape and seduction, and as someone who always inveigles and seduces, because [according to this code,] a man is powerless to resist his burning desire. This is what motivates [the victim's] family to wed her to her rapist, so that he can continue to rape her legally – and even though, if he throws her out even one day after he marries here, the status of divorcée [in our code of honor] is even more humiliating than that of rape victim."[7]

*D. Hazan is a research fellow at MEMRI.

[1], December 13, 2016.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 15, 2016.

[3], December 14, 2016.

[4], December 14, 2016.

[5], December 15, 2016.

[6] Al-Maghreb (Tunisia), December 15, 2016.

[7], December 14, 2016.

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