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Saying NO to Tunisia’s Rape Laws

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Rape culture is an ongoing global epidemic. While half the world is moving forward and denouncing the crime of rape as an act of violence, many nations continue to neglect and stigmatize the issues of rape and
sexual assault. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (
UNICEF) statistics calculate that on a global scale, one in ten girls are victims of rape or sexual assault. The World Health Organization (WHO) approximates that 7 percent of women around the world will be raped during their lifetimes, and this does not even include cases in which the rapist is an intimate partner.

Several countries have ambiguous or nonexistent marital rape laws, including Tunisia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, India, and Jordan. According to these countries’ policies, so long as a woman or girl is within the country’s legal age range, any acts of sexual intercourse between a man and his wife are not considered rape. In countries such as Tunisia, Iraq, and Palestine, rapists can escape prosecution by marrying their victims.

One such specific case went viral after Tunisian talk show host, Ala Chebbi of Andi Mankolek (translated in English as I’ve Something to Tell You), featured pregnant rape victim Hajar. Hajar claimed she had been a victim of sexual abuse by three family members since the age of 14, and that one of her rapists had impregnated her. During the program, Chebbi advised Hajar’s father that “Whoever did it should marry her to close the case.” Chebbi also blamed Hajar for not reporting her abusers and for being pregnant out of wedlock, telling her, “Admit you are at fault.” Upon being confronted on-air by Mosaique Radio, Chebbi repeated his blame of Hajar’s silence, saying, “This is the case of many Tunisian girls who have been raped and did not say anything, silence is the core of this case.”

In response to Tunisia’s toxic rape culture, women are breaking this silence. Recently, a video based on an actual rape case in Tunisia went viral on Facebook, gaining over 670,000 views worldwide. The video starred Tunisian teen actress Rania Bel Haj as the unnamed lead, a rape victim forced to marry her rapist. The case created an international uproar as the Tunisian courts approved the marriage between the rape victim, a 13-year-old girl, and her 20-year-old attacker and relative. “While rehearsing for the role, I felt close to the victim,” Bel Haj explained to Women’s E News. Sharing the same age range and nationality as the actual victim, Bel Haj felt closely connected to her role and the real-life victim.

According to Article 227 of Tunisia’s Criminal Code, marriage between a rape victim and a rapist is a completely legal solution. Women and activists alike are taking a stand, organizing and holding marches demanding that the Tunisian government act and repeal Article 227. Bel Haj’s school’s civic education club is also supporting this movement, producing a play entitled “Aatini Aroussa ou Matrodnnich Aroussa” or “Give Me a Doll and Don’t Make Me a Bride.” The video continues to bring much-needed attention to Tunisia’s marital rape laws and judicial system, sparking an onslaught of women and activists demanding reform and justice.

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