Two years in prison for repeatedly raping an 11-year-old girl, who became a mother at 12 as a result of the sexual assaults she suffered for months. How to accept such a mild verdict? In Morocco, the conviction, on March 20, of three people accused of having committed rapes on the young Sanaa, in a village near Rabat, continues to arouse indignation.

Faced with a judgment described as “scandalous”, many associations, intellectuals, Internet users have stepped up to demand its revision and sound the alarm about the “lightness” of the sanctions which tends to characterize the cases of sexual violence against minors and women. A sit-in is organized on Wednesday April 5 in front of the Rabat Court of Appeal at the initiative of the Spring of Dignity, a coalition of Moroccan human rights associations, while the appeal trial is due to open on the following day.

“Two years in prison when the law provides for up to thirty years in prison for this kind of crime! What mitigating circumstances did the judges find? In this case, there are only aggravating circumstances. It’s not a justice we have! “, indignant Fouzia Yassine, coordinator of the coalition.

An “unacceptable injustice”

“Does that mean a little girl’s life isn’t worth much?” His physical and mental integrity even less? Or that rape culture is part of the representations of judges? Or that the female body does not deserve protection and respect in our society? “, denounced, in a text published on Facebook, the anthropologist and writer Yasmine Chami, also at the origin of a petition having collected more than 30,000 signatures to date.

The collective consternation led the Minister of Justice to react. In a statement to the press on Saturday, Abdellatif Ouahbi said he was “shocked” by the verdict, saying the prosecution had appealed the judgment.

The first to have revealed the affair, the sociologist Soumaya Naamane Guessous had denounced, in an open letter to the Minister of Justice published on March 28 on the information site Le360, an “unacceptable injustice”. The university told the story of Sanaa, originally from a village near Tiflet, daughter of a shepherd and a farm worker, and out of school.

“One day in the souk when Sanaa is home alone, she is raped by a 22-year-old man. The rape is perpetuated several times by the latter, but also by his 37-year-old uncle, and by a 32-year-old neighbor, tells Le Monde Ms. Guessous. The uncle has a niece whom he implicates in their crime: he asks her to keep watch; the teenager witnesses the rapes on several occasions. Threatened with death if she speaks, Sanaa remains silent, again according to the testimony reported by Ms. Guessous.

Mitigating circumstances granted by judges

“One day, she continues, the three men realize that Sanaa has a swollen stomach. They spread the rumor that the little girl is a wanton. That’s where it all began. The father is alerted to these rumors by a neighbor and takes his daughter to the doctor. Sanaa is eight months pregnant. The three men are arrested. A few days later, Sanaa gives birth to a baby boy: a DNA test proves that one of the rapists is her father. “However, no law obliges him to recognize the child, even less to maintain it,” laments Ms. Guessous.

On March 20, the three men were found guilty of “embezzlement of a minor” and “indecent assault on a minor with violence”, according to the judgment rendered by the criminal chamber of the Rabat Court of Appeal revealed by the site Media24. One of them was sentenced to two years in prison and the other two to eighteen months in prison and six months suspended. The three defendants are also ordered to pay damages for a total amount of 4,500 euros. However, the rape of a minor can be punished by imprisonment for ten to twenty years according to the Moroccan penal code. An increased sentence of twenty to thirty years if there has been “defloration”.

The pronouncement of the judgment reveals that the judges granted mitigating circumstances to the defendants, justifying them by their “social conditions”, the “absence of criminal record” and the fact that “the penalty provided for by law is severe in view of the facts incriminated”, according to an excerpt published by Medias24.

“Gender stereotypes”

“There is a real problem of criminal procedure here: the Moroccan criminal code leaves full discretion to judges to provide the guilty with mitigating circumstances, with the effect of reducing the applicable penalties or even not applying them. This leaves them free to base their decisions on sexist stereotypes, analyzes Stephanie Willman Bordat, of Mobilizing for Rights Associates (MRA), an NGO based in Rabat. In cases of sexual assault on minors or women, this use of mitigating circumstances is widespread to find excuses for the culprits and promote their impunity. In this sense, the case of the young girl from Tiflet is not isolated. While a reform of the penal code is under study in Morocco, many voices plead for the creation of a children’s code.

In 2012, a 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. An article of the penal code then allowed men accused of rape to escape prosecution if they married their minor victim. The death of the teenager had caused shock waves in Morocco and launched a debate on rape and women’s rights. The article was repealed two years later. “Like Amina, Sanaa is a sacrificed victim,” said Ms. Guessous. I hope his ordeal will move things forward. This kind of injustice must not happen again. »