Morocco: The tragedy of Amina

A 16-year-old Moroccan girl from Larache killed herself on Saturday by swallowing rat poison after being forced to marry a man who had raped her, al-Massae newspaper reports (in Arabic).

The girl, referred to as "Amina F", was 15 at the time she was raped by a man more than 10 years her elder. Following mediation between the two families it was arranged that the couple should be married – thus preserving the families' "honour". The marriage was also approved by a judge, according to the report.

In the more traditional communities of the Middle East it is not unusual to view marriage as a way of "resolving" rape cases. The Jezebel blog notes that this is also reflected in Moroccan law: the penal code exempts a rapist from punishment if he marries his victim.

Amina's story has prompted expressions of horror on Twitter and on blogs. Storyful has a compilation of Twitter reactions, while the writer of MBI's Corner, Mehdi Idrissi, says: "Amina is my Bouazizi" – referring to the unemployed Tunisian whose self-immolation triggered the revolution against Ben Ali.

But will Amina's death trigger changes in Morocco? Will the judge who authorised the marriage be called to account? Will the law that lets rapists off the hook through marriage be abolished? Will this tragedy have any impact on traditional attitudes towards "honour"? I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

I am reminded of another story from Morocco, in 2008. A 34-year-old married woman from Mohammedia, near Casablanca, who had three daughters became pregnant again. Her husband required her to have a test – which showed that the fourth child would also be a girl.

The husband, who wanted a son, decided that she was a woman who could only produce girls (even though it is well established that a child's gender is determined by the father) and forced her to give him permission to take a second wife.

Later that day, the woman went with her daughters to a railway line, and all were killed by a train.

Inevitably, there were those in Morocco who blamed the woman for her "sinful" suicide rather than the husband who had driven her to it. The Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia told me shortly afterwards:

"I knew what people would say: that she wasn’t a Muslim any more and would go directly to hell because of her suicide.

"Here was this woman resisting with last weapon she had got, which was her body. She was already condemned by her husband and even her last cry, her act of resistance (because that is what it was), was again misunderstood. What she did reflected the ignorance, the machismo of the men, the paternalism – everything.

"If something like that happened in France or Britain there would be a huge debate. Everyone would be concerned, the country would be questioning itself and asking: Why? But in Morocco it’s 'OK, well, she’s going to hell and it’s not our affair, and anyway we don't talk about death in our house because it brings bad luck'."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 March 2012.