By Heba Kanso
BEIRUT, Aug 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Jordanian lawmakers have voted to abolish a law that lets rapists off the hook if they marry their victims, rights campaigners said on Tuesday.
They hailed the move - which comes a week after Tunisia scrapped a similar law - as an important step towards ending impunity for sexual violence.
Campaigners have said such laws, which exist in a number of Middle Eastern countries, condemn girls to a lifetime of sexual violence and domestic abuse at the hands of their rapist.
"It is a historical achievement in Jordan today," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East consultant for Equality Now, a global legal advocacy organisation.
Countries with similar provisions include Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, according to Equality Now.
"I think it is a really a positive step forward towards ending impunity for sexual assault and ending violence against women, but also (for) improving the rule of law," Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jordan.
Jordanian parliamentarian Wafa Bani Mustafa, who has campaigned to end the law, said last week that parents often agreed to such marriages to minimise "family shame", but she said no girl should be "presented as a gift" to her rapist.
Rights groups said they hoped Lebanon, which is discussing amending or abolishing a similar provision, would follow Jordan's lead.
"Hopefully this will encourage parliamentarians in Lebanon to revoke it without any exceptions," said Abu-Dayyeh.
In Lebanon, rights group Abaad has campaigned against the law with billboards of women in bloodied and torn wedding gowns. The caption reads: "A white dress doesn't cover up rape."
In April campaigners hung white wedding dresses from nooses on Beirut's seafront.
Some countries in the region have already closed similar loopholes. Egypt repealed its law in 1999, and Morocco overhauled its law in 2014 following the suicide of a 16-year-old girl and the attempted suicide of a 15-year-old who were forced to marry their rapists.
Such laws also exist in several countries outside the Middle East including the Philippines and Tajikistan, according to Equality Now.
(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)