Lebanon passes law criminalizing sexual harassment

Lebanese lawmakers broadened what constitutes domestic violence but did not specifically outlaw marital rape.

al-monitor Activists take part in a demonstration against sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Dec. 7, 2019.  Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images.

Dec 21, 2020

Lebanon's parliament on Monday passed a landmark bill criminalizing sexual harassment that puts the worst offenders behind bars for up to four years — but activists say it doesn't go far enough to end discrimination against women.

The new law "criminalizes sexual harassment, especially in the workplace,” the official National News Agency reported.

According to Al Jazeera, under the new law, low-level perpetrators can be jailed for one month to up to a year, with fines between three and 10 times the minimum monthly wage (currently $450). Punishment for the worst offenses ranges between two and four years in prison and fines that are 30 to 50 times the minimum wage.

“Major victory for women’s rights and those who have been working for years to make it happen,” Amal Mudallali, Lebanon’s permanent representative to the United Nations, tweeted Monday.

Lebanon passed a domestic violence law in 2014, but it did not specifically outlaw marital rape. On Monday, lawmakers voted to broaden the definition to “penalize economic and psychological violence” but did not outright criminalize the rape of one’s spouse.

"Marriage to the victim should not exempt a sexual offender from punishment," Aya Majzoub, Lebanon and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Agence France-Presse.

Activists say the law doesn’t go far enough to amend the country’s discriminatory laws. Unlike men, Lebanese women are still prevented from passing on their nationality to their children and spouses.

The law also requires victims to take their cases to criminal, not civil, courts, meaning their names will be made public.

"This is a major obstacle for victims and does not give them the incentive to file complaints,” Legal Agenda lawyer Karim Nammour said.

Human Rights Watch said in a report last month that Lebanon was falling short of its international obligations to protect women and girls from domestic violence. This summer, the New York-based nongovernmental organization also documented how transgender women who fled to Lebanon to escape sexual violence in Syria’s war are struggling with extreme physical and psychological trauma in their host country.

Violence against women has only gotten worse during the pandemic, with the UN reporting in April that calls to domestic violence helplines in Lebanon had doubled amid the lockdown.

This story contains reporting from AFP. 

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