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Moroccans assess Moudawana progress

By Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat – 09/10/09

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King Mohammed VI last year declared October 10th National Women's Day to mark the anniversary of the modernised Civil Status Code. But five years after the introduction of the Moudawana, opinions are mixed as to whether it has yet achieved its lofty intentions.

When Morocco first unveiled the Moudawana on October 10th, 2003, a year before it became law, citizens were hopeful. The Family Law aimed at lifting the injustices imposed on women, protecting children’s rights and safeguarding men’s dignity.

MP and lawyer Fatima Moustaghfir includes a book about the Moudawana with every wedding present she gives, asking the couple to absorb its contents before starting married life together.

Still, implementing its provisions has not been easy for the legal system. The family code, she argued, is suffering from misunderstandings on the part of lawyers, magistrates and the public alike.

"Our magistrates and lawyers have not accorded the Moudawana the importance it deserves, and so they have not gotten to the bottom of it," Moustaghfir added. "Furthermore, the public suffer from an ignorance of judicial matters, while the provisions of the code must be integrated into the secondary education syllabus."

One young woman told Magharebia that her husband married another woman, even though the law required her written consent. Three years passed before she learned that her husband had a second wife.

"He submitted a false certificate of single status, said Halima, 28."What can I do now? Start proceedings against him, accusing him of falsifying an official document? I’m in a quandary, because I have two children and I cannot be the reason why their father goes to jail," she told Magharebia with tears in her eyes. Halima, having no financial resources, has been forced to keep silent.

Women also criticise the way in which the law is enforced by the courts, particularly the length of the proceedings.

Fatimazohra Bahri has suffered years of separation from her children. Even though she is not divorced, her husband "stole" her three daughters, aged 6, 8 and 11, and settled in another town. She instituted custody proceedings against him but could not get the court to rule in her favour.

"My solicitor explained that my case was very difficult because there is a loophole in the law. In fact, the law talks of custody, but only in the case of divorce," she said.

To resolve the many legal loopholes in the Moudawana, charitable associations are calling for reform. Fatima Maghnaoui, director of the Annajda Centre in Rabat, told Magharebia that while the family code is still a considerable achievement for Morocco, it has encountered many problems.

She said that despite great efforts to train judges and civil servants working in this sphere, the law is often applied in a "patriarchal" manner, "to the benefit of the men".

"You can change laws, but to implement them you need to be open-minded. You have to organise awareness-raising campaigns targeting all sectors of society, starting with the judges."

One sign that the legislation needs further modification is that child marriage has increased, despite attempts made by the new law to limit the phenomenon. "Judges are supposed to give permission in exceptional cases. But exceptions have now turned into thousands of cases," Maghnaoui said.

Legal guardianship is another point raised by the association activist. She says that while the Moudawana was supposed to create equality between spouses, women still do not have the right to give their under-age children permission to fill in official documents such as passport applications.

The nafaqa also needs to be implemented, she argued. The fund would pay a food stipend to women who cannot obtain spousal support.

"The government keeps asking how this fund would be financed," said Maghnaoui. "They just need to look at a few solutions such as zakat or levying symbolic taxes on marriage contracts."

Magistrate Zhor El Hor agreed that a family support fund would end the suffering of many women who have no financial resources. "When the husband does not have the money for the food allowance, he risks going to prison. In that case, the women and children will derive no benefit at all from his imprisonment. The fund could pay the allowance to women through the social security," she explained.

El Hor is keen to stress the importance of communication and awareness-raising so that everyone will know their rights and responsibilities.

"Sometimes people complain that the law is not being enforced, when the procedure has not been properly followed due to ignorance on the part of the plaintiffs," she said.

Not all the loopholes in the family code are in the man's favour. There are times when a man too can find himself a victim of legal failures.

Salim, 32, has been struggling for months to get the right to visit his child, even though he is not yet divorced from his wife.

"She has taken my son away from me and moved in with her parents, demanding I divorce her. I still want her. But there’s nothing I can do in terms of the law," he told Magharebia.

Despite the advances made in terms of equality between men and women as a result of the Moudawana, Justice Minister Abdelouahed Radi still sees room for further reform. Last March, on the fifth anniversary of its introduction, Radi called for overhauling the family justice system and improving service for those coming before the courts.

The Ministry is doing all it can to ensure proper application of the Moudawana, he confirmed, citing the role of social workers who evaluate families involved in litigation and present their findings to the courts. Further studies will focus on food allowances, the benefit of mediation during family break-ups, marital asset division and training for those working in the family justice system.

"A fair implementation of the law requires awareness from administrative authorities and courts in order to inform people of their rights when they are affected by the family code," said Fatna Serhane, a law professor at Hassan II University in Casablanca and a member of the Moroccan Human Rights Association.

"Basically, I feel very optimistic and think that things will evolve positively," she added.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    toufik 2014-5-15

    Regarding alimony, it's not normal that the woman gets the divorce and the apartment and asks for alimony. If she cannot satisfy the needs of her son, they need to give him to the father.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Laila 2010-12-14

    My name is Laila. I have been living in the United States for 12 years. In Morocco, there are a lot of family problems. I know people who do not even have money to eat, but who want to have two wives just for their own pleasure and then go on to have two, three, four or more children. Afterwards, the man disappears and remarries yet again for pleasure. The question arises: What is the fate of these women and these children? What are they going to do afterwards? Certainly, there is Moudawana, and our dear king, Mohamed VI (May God protect him) made it for this purpose. This matter of polygamy is a large social, economic and political problem. What I would like to see is that the media, particularly the television media, present shows that deal with these sorts of problems in order to educate married people.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    fadili mustapha 2010-9-17

    I have been married for eight years. I have two children – a daughter and a son. I am not happy. My wife always misunderstands me. At the end of this years summer vacation, my wife did not want to return to our house. She prefers to live with her mother in Khouribga, but I live in Casablanca. She told me to go divorce her and that she is not coming back to home as my wife. What should I do?


  4. Anonymous thumb

    زيد 2009-12-12

    Some men don't respect women's rights.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Said 2009-10-18

    Hello- I am very happy to be part of this club. I have a big problem. I have been married for two years, and I have been unhappy ever since the day of my wedding. The reason is that I married a girl who wore a veil. I had never seen her without a veil. On the day of our marriage, I was surprised to see that she has very little hair. He head seems completely like it has a bad haircut. We went to see a dermatologist, and I was surprised against to find out that she has androgenic alopecia, a very rare disease that affects both men and women. Ever since then, I have never tasted the pleasure of living. The problem is that this is a woman who possesses good qualities; she is nice, helpful, faithful and from a good family. I constantly think about divorce, but I can't manage to go through with it because I am afraid of doing too much harm to her. So, we are united only out of pity, not love. Tell me, please, what should I do. I am suffering every moment of my life. I would like to know what the shariah has to say on this. –Thank you infinitely


  6. Anonymous thumb

    بدر الغمري badr rhomri 2009-10-14

    The Family Code would be a huge legal achievement if its gaps were filled. Moreover, judges, lawyers and all officers should understand its stipulations, and applications, for man, firstly, for freedom, equality and equity. Many married people are still struggling to get official recognition for their civil or mixed marriages, whether because local authorities refuse to approve them or because children born from this marriage are not recognized as they weren't allowed to register them. I know of many such cases. As for the door of confirming marriage, it was closed and hasn't been opened yet. But for how long will people remain imprisoned as a result of their situations?


  7. Anonymous thumb

    Acharif Moulay Abdellah BOUSKRAOUI 2009-10-13

    His Majesty has taken important measures to reaffirm the democratic institutions and promote the freedom of justice and expression. Under the leadership of His Majesty, Morocco has made much progress in terms of human rights and women’s rights by establishing the Moudawana, the family code that guarantees women all their rights. The family code, the bulk of which was announced by His Majesty the King during his 6 October 2003 speech to the Parliament, is considered by a number of observers to be a real political and historic revolution. This code institutes new relationships at the heart of the family, based on parity and equality between the two spouses. Two years after it was passed, the first results of the application of this Family Code were shown by certain developments that took place. As was described by Minister of Justice Mr Mohamed Bouzouba on 3 February 2006 in Rabat during a day of studies devoted to the evaluation and application of the Family Code, the content of this code is increasingly being absorbed by the citizens. As such, young girls have understood that they can determine their marriages themselves, without supervision. This right was conferred to them by the new Family Code. It is for this reason that we recorded an increase in the number of marriages to the tune of 3.4% in comparison with 2004. Other eloquent statistics include a reduction of 6.34% in the number of “kholaâ” divorces, wherein the woman obtains a divorce and, consequently, gives up her rights to support from the husband (most especially, the "nafaka" or food alimony), as compared to 2004.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    Mohamed EL BAKI (mohamedelbaki) 2009-10-10

    Moudawana is a great initiative, a step in the history of Morocco, an act of progress and social justice. Moudawana needs to be seen through and accepted as a means of our development and the path to equality and parity between men and women. All our citizens, male and female, are equal in rights and duties.