Forced Marriage Overseas: Morocco
Individuals from the United States may face challenges if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in Morocco. While Morocco has some of the most progressive laws in the Islamic world with respect to female equality, in practice the enforcement of such laws has not been uniform. Women and girls in rural areas face particularly challenging discriminatory practices and obstacles to safety and justice.1
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Morocco please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Morocco
The Moroccan Personal Status Code2 (“Moudawana” or “Family Code”) is the law governing marriage and divorce in Morocco. This legal framework is largely governed by religious doctrine. Marriages may also be take place according to Islamic tradition known as “Fatiha marriages”, however, these marriages are not legally recognized.
The minimum age of marriage for both males and females in Morocco is eighteen and all marriages must be registered with the state in order to be considered valid under the law.3 However, not all marriages are formally registered in this way, likely in an attempt to dodge the minimum age requirements.<sup In addition, with the consent of a minor’s parents a Family Affairs judge may authorize the marriage of a girl or boy below eighteen and despite legal protections over 90% of petitions are granted with respect to child marriage.5
Moroccan marriages require the consent and presence of both parties; however, it is possible for an individual to be married in absentia person if a stand in is authorized by the Family Affairs judge.6
Gender does not affect an individual’s capacity to enter into marriage in Morocco. Under certain circumstances polygamy is permitted under Moroccan law, but the Family Code requires a man who wants more than one wife to prove to a judge that he can support two families and show objective and exceptional reason for entering into multiple marriages, and the judge can only grant the request if both the first and the second wife approve.
Moroccan laws regarding annulment and divorce are primarily based on French civil law and Islamic law (Shari’a). Matters related to personal status (including inheritance, marriage, divorce and child custody) are governed by the Moudawana, which is based on Islamic law. However, marriage within the Jewish community does not fall under the Moudawana and Rabbinical authorities administer Jewish family courts7 and the Christian community does not have the same legal mechanisms with respect to personal status as the Muslim and Jewish communities.8
Both men and woman are granted equal access to divorce and annulment under the law in Morocco, but in practice there are many barriers that prevent women from seeking to dissolve a marriage.
Women in rural areas are often constrained by the patriarchal structure of society, more conservative judges, and the taboo surrounding divorced women. Further, domestic violence does not constitute separate grounds for divorce under Moroccan penal law, but can, if proven, constitute harm with the burden of proof on the woman. The standard of proof applied in many divorce cases involving domestic violence is exceptionally high and this discourages women victims of domestic violence from suing for divorce.9
According to Article 128 of the Family Code, decisions by courts outside of Morocco concerning repudiation, divorce, divorce in exchange for compensation, or annulment will be recognized as valid only when they are based on grounds that do not contradict those contained in the Moudawana.
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Theoretically, Morocco has some of the most advanced laws on women’s rights in the Arab world; however, these new laws are not enforced throughout Morocco, especially in rural areas.10 In rural areas in Morocco, religious and social customs make child marriage a common practice11 and few applicants for underage marriage are male, which implies a pattern of minor females being married to adult male spouses.12 Brides as young as 12-years-old13 have been documented, and testimony by girls and women support the contention that many are forced into early marriages against their will.14
Currently, there is no specific law prohibiting forced or child marriage in Morocco. In 2013, the Ministry of Justice suggested reforming the penal code to include a provision criminalizing forced marriage, however, the draft of that bill has not yet been adopted. Parliament only recently amended the article of the penal code which allowed a rapist to escape prosecution if he married his underage victim.15
The Moroccan penal code does not specifically criminalize domestic violence or spousal rape, and the existing penal code provisions are outdated, generalized, and not effectively enforced. There are also no civil remedies, specifically restraining order or civil protection order provisions, available to victims of domestic violence. It has been reported that law enforcement officials do not respond effectively to complaints of domestic violence and that domestic violence is viewed as a private matter.16
There is no secure hotline for domestic violence in the country and victims are often reluctant to seek help due to the lack of action by government officials and a fear of retribution.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Moroccan law does not prohibit a married woman from leaving Morocco on her own. Women may encounter difficulty exiting the country with children unless the father is present, as children that are Moroccan citizens – which is the case of all children born of a Moroccan father – are required to have permission of the father to leave the country with the mother.17
Individuals should always check the exit requirements for Morocco the most up to date information.
Assistance for Individuals from the United States
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Morocco, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Morocco.
- U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca
Contact the consulate in the case of an emergency.
1 Sabbe et al, BMC International Health & Human Rights, Determinants of child and forced marriage in Morocco: stakeholder perspectives on health, policies and human rights, available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-698X/13/43
2 Sherifyan Dahir (Royal Edict) n° 1.04.22 issued on 12 Dou Al Hijja 1424 (February 3, 2004) To Implement Law n° 70.03 as the Family Code
3 Family Code, Article 19
4 Girls Not Brides, Child Marriage Around the World: Morocco, available at http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/morocco/
5 Sabbe et al, BMC International Health & Human Rights, Determinants of child and forced marriage in Morocco: stakeholder perspectives on health, policies and human rights, available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-698X/13/43
6 Family Code, Article 17
7 Mimouna, Les Juifs du Maroc, Tradition et Modernité, available at: http://www.mimouna.net/index.php?page=contenu&number_page=4&cat_name=Famille
8 US Diplomatic Mission to Morocco, 2009 Morocco Religious Freedom Report, available at http://morocco.usembassy.gov/eng_morocco-religoius-report.html
9 Human Rights Watch, Morocco: Action Urged on Legal Code Reform – New Royal Commission Must Include Women’s Rights Activists (March 19, 2001), available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2001/03/19/morocco-action-urged-legal-code-reform
10 United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Country Visit to Morocco, available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/VisitMorocco.aspx
12 National Human Rights Council of the Kingdom of Morocco, National Human Rights Council Releases a New Report on Gender Equality and Parity: 97 Recommendations to Fight All Forms of Discrimination in Morocco, available at http://www.cndh.org.ma/an/article/national-human-rights-council-releases-new-report-gender-equality-and-parity-97
13 Aziz Allilou, Child Marriage in Morocco: Young Girls Married at the Age of 12, http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/12/146163/child-marriage-in-morocco-young-girls-married-at-the-age-of-12/
14 Sabbe et al, BMC International Health & Human Rights, Determinants of child and forced marriage in Morocco: stakeholder perspectives on health, policies and human rights, available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-698X/13/43
15 Morocco Penal Code, Article 475
16 Freedom House Inc., Special Reports http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=178
17 Passports USA, Tips for Travelers to the Middle East and north Africa, http://www.passportsusa.com/travel/tips/regional/regional_1175.html