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On Wednesday, September 12, Morocco enacted what is locally known as the Hakkaoui law, a new piece of legislation criminalizing “harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation, or ill-treatment of women.” Named after Bassima Hakkaoui, Morocco’s Minister of Family, Solidarity, Equality, and Social Development, the law was drafted five years ago and approved by parliament in February. The law also bans forced marriages, defines violence against women, and prohibits sexual cybercrimes. Penalties for perpetrators include prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to $1,000 USD.

While the law is the first of its kind in Morocco, many women, activists, and human rights groups say it does not do enough to protect women, particularly those who are most vulnerable to violence and harassment in the home or other parts of the private sphere. The law fails to define or prohibit domestic violence and does not outlaw marital rape or child marriages. It also fails to elaborate on the government’s role in providing support and services to victims, such as legal or financial assistance for survivors.  Activists also say the law does not detail the monitoring mechanisms needed for authorities, such as police officers and prosecutors, to be enforce the law or carry out investigations. A lack of concrete guidelines and vague language allows for various interpretations on how to prove or prosecute sexual violence or harassment.

Given the pressing issues with gender violence in Morocco, the law’s shortcomings must be addressed. In a daunting report issued by the Moroccan Association for Women’s Rights (AMDH), 55 percent of reported acts of violence against women were domestic, perpetrated by husbands against wives. Victims reported the violence in only 3 percent of cases. In another survey conducted by Morocco’s High Commission for Planning, more than 40 percent of women aged 18 to 64 reported that they had been “victims of an act of violence at least once.” The number of reported rapes in the country has increased by two-fold from 2016 to 2017. As AMDH, as well as Advocates and Mobilization for Rights Associations, have pointed out, Morocco’s family laws are also generally problematic, as they give greater legal and economic power over women in both marriage and divorce.

Until the problems with Morocco’s new law are fixed and its prohibitions fully implemented, women in Morocco will continue to face serious threats to their physical, sexual, and emotional health. Over the past few years, there have been numerous high-profile cases related to violence against women in Morocco, sparking public outcry and advocacy. Still, thousands suffer in silence. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Miloud Kaouass, Professor of Islamic Studies at Ibn Tofail University in the Moroccan city of Kenitra, stressed the importance of awareness raising about the issue in school and at home.

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