RABAT, Morocco — Nearly a year after Morocco was shocked by the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was coerced by a judge to marry her alleged rapist, the government revealed plans to outlaw the traditional practice.
Women’s rights activists welcomed Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid’s announcement but said it was only a first step in reforming a penal code that doesn’t do enough to stop violence against women in this North African kingdom.
A paragraph in Article 475 of the penal code allows those convicted of ‘‘corruption’’ or ‘‘kidnapping’’ of a minor to go free if they marry their victim, and the practice was encouraged by judges to spare family shame.
In March, 16-year-old Amina al-Filali poisoned herself to get out of a seven-month-old abusive marriage to a 23-year-old she said had raped her. Her parents and a judge had pushed the marriage to protect the family honor. The suicide sparked calls for the law to be changed. The traditional practice can be found across the Middle East and in such places as India and Afghanistan, where the loss of a woman’s virginity out of wedlock is considered to stain the honor of the family or tribe.
While the marriage age is officially 18, judges routinely approve much younger unions in this deeply traditional country of 32 million with high illiteracy and poverty.
For nearly a year, the Islamist-dominated government balked at reforming the law.
‘‘Changing this article is a good thing but it doesn’t meet all of our demands,’’ said Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. ‘‘The penal code has to be totally reformed because it contains many provisions that discriminate against women and doesn’t protect women against violence.’’
She singled out parts of the law that distinguish between ‘‘rape resulting in deflowering and just plain rape.’’