[TW: This article references sensitive topics, including r*pe, sexual assault and suicide]
For most global citizens, the idea of ‘marry your rapist’ legislation being upheld in a court of law is an alien one. ‘Marry your rapist’ legislation grants accused rapists the opportunity to evade incarceration through the marriage between themselves and their accuser. There are currently 20 countries around the world that uphold such legislation.
Image 1: Information retrieved from Business Mirror.
The overturning of rape charges through marriage varies between each country, but ultimately such legislation holds one purpose: ensuring that sexual abusers are not held accountable. For example, in Russia, legislation permits statutory rape (where the victim is below 16) to be legally valid when the abuser and rape survivor are wed. In Thailand, marriage is deemed a reasonable settlement of rape so long as the court and the rape survivor consent to the wedding. Alternatively, in Kuwait, the expungement of a rape charge is granted when the guardian of the rape survivor provides their signature.
Many people are often perplexed as to why rape survivors would agree to marry their rapist or be forced to by their families. It is often due to the entrenched cultural stigmatization of women who have sex before marriage or are raped. Rape survivors are labelled as ‘unmarriageable’ in some countries, which is frequently linked back to deep-seeded patriarchal attitudes. It is not uncommon for family members to view rape survivors as ‘impure’. Therefore, guardians often believe that the marriage between their child and the accused will prevent their child from becoming a social outcast in the community. Ultimately “it becomes a matter of shame for the woman when the neighbourhood and her relatives find out she has been raped”. Such damaging beliefs are responsible for the entrapment of women in marriages to their rapist.
Moreover, the entrenched social norm that one should marry their rapist is not merely endorsed by the general population in many countries, but is also supported by the courts. Courts in India often grant a ‘get out of jail’ card to accused rapists when the marriage between themselves and the accuser takes place, prompting the dismissal of hundreds of rape cases. Law enforcement agencies who work with families of rape survivors to orchestrate the marriage between the accused and the accuser argue that they are acting in the best interest of the rape survivor, especially in instances concerning a minor or pregnancy. High courts in India have been shown to frequently accept the argument that the marriage between the accused rapist and rape survivor is necessary for the woman’s welfare. Ultimately, these ‘behind the scenes’ settlements contribute to the 27% conviction rate for rape offences in India, despite the death penalty being the punishment for such a crime.
The stigma attached to rape survivors would significantly shift in a positive direction through the abolishment of ‘marry your rapist’ legislation. Additionally, the spotlight needs to be shone on countries that do not have explicit legislation protecting women from being forced to marry their rapists.
Ultimately, legislation that explicitly precludes an accused rapist from evading charges through marriage is a necessity that must be implemented immediately. Global outrage to current legislation (or lack thereof) has led to protests across the world, which governments have been unable to ignore. Countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco have all repealed legislation allowing rapists to marry the woman they sexually assaulted in order to evade punishment. In 2016, a highly publicised instance of a 13-year-old rape survivor in Tanzania being forced to marry her rapist, who had also impregnated her, led to an outcry from activist groups. The anger across Tanzania led to the Parliament repealing ‘marry your rapist’ laws in the country.
Similarly, Morocco’s ‘marry your rapist’ legislation was overturned in 2014 after protests erupted across the country. Such outrage was in response to Amina Filali’s suicide, which occurred after she was forced to marry the man accused of raping her. From 2010–2013, 159 marriages took place in Jordan as a means for accused rapists to evade jail time. In 2016, Jordan repealed article 522, ultimately closing this loophole. Such success was due to a women's rights group bringing to light that only 1% of the population in Jordan was informed that ‘marry your rapist’ legislation was in effect. Thus, the example of Jordan highlights how bringing unknown legislation to the attention of the public can be a successful tool in overturning inequitable laws.
However, the dissolution of ‘marry your rapist’ legislation is only a relatively recent notion. The repeal of such legislation took place in Italy in 1981, Peru in 1998, Romania in 2000, Ethiopia in 2005 and Costa Rica in 2007. Furthermore, despite the growing momentum of overthrowing inequitable legislation, some countries actively attempt to undo these efforts. For example, Turkey recently proposed that child rapists should have the opportunity to marry the child they have raped, so long as the age gap is lower than ten years. The proposal further included that such child rapists would receive a suspended sentence for their sex crimes once married. Bahrain's parliament is stonewalled in repealing article 353 of their penal code, which would cease rapists' ability to evade punishment by marrying their accuser. The cabinet continues to reject the proposed repeal and is currently only considering amending article 353 to exclude gang-rape cases. This would still enable a rapist who acts independently to escape prosecution through marriage.
A report conducted by the United Nations Population Fund revealed that in the 57 countries interviewed, 45% of women stated they did not have the ability to consent to sex with their partner. Further, there are currently 43 countries where marital rape legislation is not in effect, indicating that marital rape is not criminalised in 6-in-10 countries. The failing of women's rights legislation continues to separate the sexes in the right to bodily autonomy.
It is currently estimated that it will take until 2035 for the number of female and male judges to be equal. Thus, all members of the community must be held accountable for standing up against inequitable legislation. Past events show that protesting legislation that inhibits female bodily autonomy is successful when carried out globally. Hopefully, the end of ‘marry your rapist’ legislation is in sight.
 Sarah Johnson, 'Marry your rapist' laws in 20 countries still allow perpetrators to escape justice. The Guardian (2021, April 14). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/apr/14/marry-your-rapist-laws-in-20-countries-still-allow-perpetrators-to-escape-justice
 Ordinario, C. (2021, April 15). 'Marry-your-rapist' practice, laws exist in PHL, 20 other nations – UNFA report: Cai Ordinario. Retrieved from https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/04/16/marry-your-rapist-practice-laws-exist-in-phl-20-other-nations-unfa-report/
 Begum, R. (2020, October 28). Middle East on a Roll to Repeal 'Marry the Rapist' Laws. Human Rights Watch Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/08/24/middle-east-roll-repeal-marry-rapist-laws
 Reforming the laws that forced women to marry their rapists. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/6/feature-story-of-change-reforming-laws-that-forced-women-to-marry-their-rapists
 Gupta, P. (2020, August). How India's Rape-Survivors End Up Marrying Their Rapists. Retrieved from https://www.article-14.com/post/how-india-s-rape-survivors-end-up-marrying-their-rapists
 Sarah Johnson (n 1)
 End in sight for "marry your rapist" laws. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/EndInSightMarryYourRapistLaws.asx
 Reforming the laws that forced women to marry their rapists (n 9)
 Begum, R (n 6)
 Outrage as government in Turkey proposes 'marry your rapist' law. (2021, June 22). Retrieved from https://www.freedomunited.org/news/outrage-as-government-in-turkey-proposes-marry-your-rapist-law
 Begum, R (n 6)
 Sarah Johnson (n 1).
 Sarah Johnson (n 1).
 TA6: Violence Against Women and the Girl Child. (2020). Retrieved from https://worlds-women-2020-data-undesa.hub.arcgis.com/pages/violence-against-women-and-the-girl-child
Ava Dullard is a second year Law/Arts student and is extremely passionate about women's rights around the world. Ava one day hopes to be involved in law reform to aid in the progression of legislation in Australia.