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Tuesday, June 25, 2024  
18 Dhul-Hijjah 1445  

Girls facing sexual assault, forced marriage threats after Moroccan quake

Several men promoted marrying girls in quake-hit regions
A girl washes dishes outside their tent on Friday at a camp for earthquake victims in Amizmiz - AFP
A girl washes dishes outside their tent on Friday at a camp for earthquake victims in Amizmiz - AFP

At least one man was arrested from the Moroccan city of Errachidia this week for promoting the marriage of underage girls and other forms of exploitation following the powerful earthquake in the country, Al Jazeera reported.

A 20-year-old student from the city of Errachidia boasted online about traveling to quake-hit zones with the intention of sexually assaulting young girls, according to local media.

The 6.8-magnitude earthquake left nearly 3,000 people dead and more than 5,600 injured. The UN reported that around 300,000 people were likely affected by the earthquake. UNICEF said that number likely included 100,000 children.

Women’s rights activists and organisations were soon on a high alert after the content was posted online by several men who advised marrying girls in the affected areas after the quake hit the Atlas Mountains in Morocco on September 8.

An adult man, supposedly a volunteer helping survivors, in a social media post, posed next to a young girl of around 10.

“She doesn’t want to come with me to [Casablanca] but she whispered that when she grows up we will get married,” he wrote in his Instagram story with a photo of himself and the young girl.

Another popular page on Facebook, while criticising city girls said, “Why would you marry someone spoiled who still wants to dress in exposed and tight clothes, spend a lot of money, improperly raise your kids.” In the post, men were urged to instead marry “girls who wouldn’t ask for anything”.

Yasmina Benslimane, a Moroccan activist and the founder of Politics4Her, said that men have been advocating marrying these girls even if they are underage.

Benslimane along with other Moroccan women’s rights activists urged for a gender-sensitive relief response to the affected areas after they were informed of the campaign urging Moroccan men to travel to remote villages to “save” young girls.

They have now published a manifesto calling for such a response.

Read: Frightened Morocco quake survivors camp out on streets

“We knew that something like that would happen, that there will be risks of gender-based violence, that there will be risks of exploitation, and this is exactly what is happening with the alarming cases we’ve seen online,” said Benslimane.

As relief efforts continue, the authorities have concentrated on the particular risks more vulnerable populations are facing.

Last week, King Mohammed VI conferred “Ward of the Nation” status to the children orphaned by the quake, to “protect them from hazards of all kinds”, including being trafficked.

Amidst concerns about possible forced marriages, trafficking, and sexual assault of young boys and girls, the basic issue of menstrual hygiene also persists.

Poverty and limited access to menstrual products already existed prior to the quake in the hardest-hit mountainous regions.

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