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Sunday, April 12, 1998 Published at 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK

World: Middle East

Algeria authorises abortion for rape victims
image: [ Women have often been the victims in Algeria's continuing violence ]
Women have often been the victims in Algeria's continuing violence

Algerian radio says the religious authorities have issued a "fatwa", or edict, permitting women who have been raped in the country's civil conflict to undergo abortions.

The radio said the Islamic High Council - the country's highest religious body - had issued the ruling at the government's request.

At the moment, abortion in Algeria is only allowed if a woman is judged insane or if her life is in danger.

BBC's Barbara Plett: the fatwa is an unusual break with Islamic norms
Over the last six years, there have been frequent reports of the kidnapping and rape of young women in the conflict between armed Islamic groups and the Algerian security forces.

The government blames the militants for rape and other atrocities committed against the civilian population, although human rights groups say elements in the security forces are also assaulting women.

Women's lives destroyed

According to women's rights activists, the stigma attached to rape in an Islamic society like Algeria effectively destroys women's lives.

Caroline Brac, a spokeswoman for the organisation Women Living Under Muslim Law, says: "All the young women who have been abducted and then run away or are thrown away by the armed groups after they have been raped for weeks or months, they are like the living dead."

Hundreds of children born as a result of these attacks are subsequently abandoned.

Other changes possible

Announcing the proposed change to the abortion law last month, Algeria's Minister of the Family, Rabea Merchernene, said 30 amendments to the country's Family Code were under consideration.

[ image: Some 80,000 are believed to have died]
Some 80,000 are believed to have died
The 1984 code made divorce virtually impossible and stated that women needed the permission of their husbands or other male guardians to work outside the home.

Its introduction was seen at the time as an attempt by the authorities to appease the country's growing Islamic movement.

Political violence in Algeria erupted in 1992, when the government cancelled elections to prevent the main Islamic opposition party, the FIS, from winning.

Since then, it is estimated that 80,000 people have been killed.

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