TWENTY countries still allow rapists to marry their underage victims in order to escape prison, a shocking UN report has revealed.
More than a dozen countries allow men to have their rape convictions overturned if they marry the women or girls they have assaulted.
Dr Natalia Kanem, executive director of the UN Population Fund, which published the report today, said the laws were “deeply wrong”.
“The denial of rights cannot be shielded in law. ‘Marry your rapist’ laws shift the burden of guilt on to the victim and try to sanitise a situation which is criminal,” Kanem told The Guardian.
Russia, Thailand and Venezuela are among the 20 countries which still allow rapists to marry underage victims.
“It is the case that in some countries the law permits the husband to have sexual intercourse whether the wife wants it or not, and there are countries where a man who rapes a woman can escape penalties if he marries her against her will,” the report said.
Dima Dabbous, director of Equality Now’s Middle East and Africa region, said the laws reflect a culture “that does not think women should have bodily autonomy and that they are the property of the family”.
“It’s a tribal and antiquated approach to sexuality and honour mixed together,” Dabbous said.
The UNFPA said “marriage laws and practices that subordinate women and deny them agency are widespread and difficult to root out”.
And 43 countries have no legislation criminalising marital rape.
“Even in countries that recognize the concept, the penalties for non-consensual sex within marriage may be significantly lower than in other cases,” the report said.
Marriage can be considered a settlement for rape in Thailand if the perpetrator is over 18 and the victim is over 15 – and if she “consented” to the offence and if the court grants permission for marriage.
The law was repealed in Morocco following widespread outrage when a young woman took her own life after she was forced to marry her rapist.
Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan followed suit.
But “marry-your-rapist” laws still exist in Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Bolivia, Cameroon, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gaza, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tonga and Venezuela, according to NGO Equality Now.
“In Russia, if the perpetrator has reached 18 years of age and has committed statutory rape with a minor below 16, he is exempt from punishment if he marries the victim,” the report said.
“In Kuwait, if the perpetrator legally marries his victim with the permission of her guardian and the guardian requests that he not be punished, the perpetrator is set free.”
The UN report focuses on bodily autonomy – the right to make choices about your body free from violence – and revealed that 45 percent of women in 57 countries are denied the right to consent to sex with their partner or use contraception.
In Mali, Niger and Senegal, fewer than one in 10 women can make their own decisions.
Kanem said: “The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare should outrage us all.
“In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.