As they concluded their general comments this afternoon on Morocco's initial report to the Committee which monitors the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, experts continued to raise questions about the rights of Moroccan women in family matters, such as the right to marry freely and to divorce, as well as to pass their family name on to their children.
Morocco, one of eight countries that will report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during its current session, presented its report at this morning's meeting.
Several experts expressed concern at the practice of repudiation in marriage, which, according to Moroccan law, is granted only to men. They also asked for more detailed information on the right of women in divorce, the application of different minimum marriage ages for males and females, matrimonial trusteeship and the practice of polygamy. One expert noted that the mother had no power of affiliation and could only give her name to her children with permission from her father or brother.
Referring to comments about the different interpretations of Islamic law, the representative of Morocco acknowledged the existence of a more liberal interpretation of Shariah. He also said his Government had already given detailed legal explanation of its relevant laws in its reservations when it ratified the Convention. He also noted some problems in his country's reporting procedures and said future reports would adhere to the requirements required by the Committee. Morocco would reply to the experts' questions at the morning session scheduled for 20 January, he added.
The Committee will meet again at 10:15 a.m. tomorrow, 15 January, to hear the presentation of Slovenia's initial report.
Committee Work Programme
The monitoring body for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to conclude commenting and posing specific questions on Morocco's implementation of Convention articles 14 through 30, as described in the country's initial periodic report.
The report was introduced to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women by a representative of Morocco this morning. The experts followed the presentation with general comments on the report and specific observations and questions on implementation of the first 13 articles of the Convention.
The Moroccan report focused on the revision process of the country's Constitution and legislation in light of Islamic law. Particular attention was paid in the report and in comments by experts to changes being pursued in Morocco's personal status code which had contained a number of traditional restrictions on women in family and public life, as well as in the workplace. Committee members also highlighted their concerns over reservations to specific articles made by Morocco in its ratification of the treaty. (For a summary of the report, see Press Release WOM/928 issued today.)
According to the programme of work, the Committee will hear, on the morning of 20 January, the replies of the Moroccan delegation to experts' questions on specific aspects of the country's implementation of the Convention.
Comments on Specific Articles
Referring to article 14, which covers the rights of rural women, an expert asked whether rural women needed permission from their husbands for access to credit. Could they hold the title to land and dispose of it in their own right? she asked. What percentage of rural women had access to clean water? she also asked.
Referring to article 15, on women's right to equality before the law, an expert asked if women had the freedom to choose their domicile. She noted that a woman could lose the right to their dowry and the conjugal home if she left without valid motives. What reasons were valid other than failing to ask the husband's permission to leave? she asked. Could women repudiate their husbands and, if so, in what circumstances? Referring to paragraph 47 of the report, she asked what was meant by the term "feeble minded" and whether it did apply equally to men and women.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 3 - Press Release WOM/930 313th Meeting (PM) 14 January 1997
The practice of repudiation in marriage was supposed to happen in a time and place determined by a judge, an expert noted. Did that time and place apply equally to husbands and wives? What programmes had been set up to inform women of their new rights so they could make use of the benefits and claim their rights in court. Were there any female judges? she asked.
Another expert referred to article 16, on the rights of women in family, especially with regard to such laws as the different minimum marriage ages for men and women, matrimonial trusteeship and the practice of polygamy. She expressed concern that repudiation was solely the right of the husband, whereas women could only seek divorce from a judge; that men had the right to choose the family domicile and if a woman did not follow her husband, she could be repudiated. And that the mother had no power of affiliation and could only give her name to her children with permission from her father or brother.
An expert wanted to know what legal evidence was needed to prove the offence of adultery and what were the penalties. She noted the use of highly subjective language in Morocco's personal status code, such as "sexual ethics", "immoral conduct", "immoral employment" and "simple mindedness".
An expert said the report spoke about the reform of polygamy and said in repudiation the first wife had to be informed and that, in the case of "injustice", a judge could not allow polygamy. What was meant by the term "injustice"? she asked. She noted that when repudiating a wife, a husband had to give the wife a "consolation gift", which, she said, would seem to imply an inequality between men and women.
According to the Moroccan personal status code, a women with no father could now enter into a marriage of her own accord, an expert said. But why did a woman require permission from her father or male guardian to marry anyway? Why a wife could not repudiate a husband? she asked, noting that there might be many cases when women needed to repudiate a husband who did not turn out as expected. According to the Koran, both spouses should take account of each other and respect each other. If that was the case, why were there unequal laws for men and women in Moroccan law? What was meant by reference to the right of the husband to correct his wife? The report said the wife had deference to the family of the husband. Did men have to give deference to their wives' families? she asked.
The report also referred to the right to pass on a name, the expert continued. According to Moroccan law, there was no natural affiliation through the father for a child born outside the marriage. The father's name could "never" be attached to the illegitimate child regardless of the father's wish, and an unmarried mother could only give her name to her child with permission from her father or brother. Did that mean the mother had no legal right to pass on her name to her child? the expert asked.
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee - 4 - Press Release WOM/930 313th Meeting (PM) 14 January 1997
The Committee Chairperson, SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, said that many of the experts had noted that the Islamic law known as Shariah was a reason put forward for differences in the status of men and women under Moroccan law. However, many countries used Shariah as a reason for such differences only when it suited their legal or civil laws. She noted there were many areas of discrimination in marriage and family under Moroccan law, and where those did not conflict with Shariah law they should be examined more closely.
EL HASSANE ZAHID (Morocco) said he had noted down the questions and comments by the experts and would reply to them in detail on 20 January as scheduled. Nevertheless, he added, there had been some problems in understanding the reporting guidelines. His Government had prepared its report according to requirements set out in a document dated 11 August 1983. The report was prepared on the basis of the reservations which were presented when the Convention was ratified. Future reports would be presented on an article-by-article basis.
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