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Monday, April 5, 1999 Published at 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK

World: Middle East

Egypt gets tough on rapists

Egyptian ministers have voted to repeal a controversial law which exempts a rapist from punishment if he marries his victim.

Rape victims sometimes agree to wed their attackers because they do not want to disgrace their families.

But the custom has been strongly criticised by religious leaders and women's activists.

The Justice Minister, Faruq Seif al-Nasr, was quoted in the local press saying that the law encouraged rapists and was bad for women's security.

The move, which has the backing of President Hosni Mubarak, still has to be approved by the Egyptian Parliament, but is not expected to meet much resistance.

In many Middle Eastern countries, a woman who loses her virginity out of wedlock brings shame to her family, even if she has been raped.

By marrying her attacker, the woman at least gets a certificate of marriage although it is often followed by divorce.

'Law is un-Islamic'

In January, a senior Egyptian Sheikh, the Mufti of Egypt, declared such marriages were against Islam and that any marriage between a rapist and his victim was "null and void".

He said the legislation permitting the practice had been adopted during the colonial period for the convenience of foreigners living in Egypt.

In December, prosecutors freed three rape suspects after one of them offered to marry the victim and she accepted, prompting outrage among women's groups.

Under Egyptian law, a rapist may be executed. On Sunday a 27-year-old man was sentenced to death for kidnapping and raping a three-year-old girl.

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