Activists are celebrating in Lebanon after a law that absolved rapists if they married their victims was scrapped.
The legislation, which had been in place 68 years, condemns girls to a lifetime of sexual violence, say campaigners.
Lebanon has become the latest country to abolish such laws after Jordan and Tunisia took similar action in recent weeks.
MPs voted to scrap article 522 of Lebanon’s penal code which read: “If a valid contract of marriage is made between the perpetrator of any of the offences mentioned in this section, and the victim, the prosecution is suspended. If judgment was already passed, the implementation of the punishment is suspended.”
Samira Atallah, from Equality Now, which campaigns for women’s human rights, said: “After 68 years of a discriminatory law that practically rewarded rapists and punished rape victims, Lebanon finally moved forward towards honouring its international commitments to women’s human rights, and joined other Arab countries, most recently Jordan and Tunisia, in repealing a law that has for long protected criminals and turned marriage into a prison for rape victims.
“This is a significant and long-overdue step towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women in Lebanon. It comes after an intense and long campaign by local civil society and activists, and with great support from the media, UN entities and international organisations such as Equality Now.
“Today a message was sent by the Lebanese parliament that rape is a crime and will be treated as a crime, and this message should be made loud and clear with public and legal education to ensure that violations no longer occur under the pretext of protecting ‘family honour’.
“We also hope that the repeal of this law will pave the way for the immediate repeal of other discriminatory provisions, particularly in connection with child marriage and marital rape.”
Countries with similar ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws include Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, according to Equality Now.
“Today, we want to congratulate the women of Lebanon,” said lawyer Danielle Howayek, from the Beirut-based women’s rights group Abaad.
Howayek said there was still a long way to go for Lebanese law to protect women, but getting rid of the “marry-your-rapist” provision – which dates back to 1943 – marked a major step.
“Today, it should be clear to everyone that there is no room for avoiding the penalty for rape, and for any sexual act by force or under duress,” she added.
Abaad has lobbied against the law for months, plastering the streets with billboards of women in bloodied and torn bridal gowns. “A white dress doesn’t cover up rape,” the images say.
In April, activists hung battered white dresses from nooses on Beirut’s popular seafront.
Justice Minister Salim Jrayssati said he would consult women’s rights groups to “see if there’s a need for other or more amendments”.