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Morocco: No ring, no rights

Summer remains the perfect time for weddings in Morocco. Every night, cities turn into theatre stages, with processions of glittering tekchitas and caftans (traditional dresses). Watching this, one almost forgets about the minority of Moroccans who choose to live their lives outside the sacred contract that we call marriage. This eclectic group is impossible to quantify due to the taboo that surrounds the issue of not getting married. But clearly, the number is growing under the pressure of accelerated globalisation and rapid social changes.

According to the Moroccan Penal Code, non-married men and women living together as husband and wife commit a crime liable to between one month and one year in jail. The only way of getting around this used to be opting for the fatiha. The fatiha is a Muslim marriage certificate that allows, in theory, a couple to live together while waiting to get their marriage recognised. In 2004 however, a new Civil Code was adopted which said that the fatiha was to remain in effect only for another five years. After that, couples must get married either through a civil or a religious ceremony. As a result, the only way today for men and women to take advantage of their civil rights as couples, is to get married.

That people choose to live together outside of marriage is a social reality in today’s Morocco, and something public authorities will gradually have to cope with. A young woman Mashallah spoke to argues that this is a way of getting to know the other and avoid getting disappointed. For Moroccans like her, the option is very much a practical matter, and marriage itself is little less than a formalisation of the relationship.

The fatiha is a Muslim marriage certificate that allows, in theory, a couple to live together while waiting to get their marriage recognised.

For others, the choice of living together as unmarried is a way of challenging traditions and social customs. But the social pressure makes it difficult to identify and interview these couples about their decision. Finally, the situation can also be explained by the fact that in the past, Moroccans used to get married through only obtaining the fatiha and without going through with the actual marriage. Although outside legal boundaries since 2004, this tradition is still alive in some places in the countryside, and in cases of polygamous marriages.

One of the main issues of not being married in Morocco is the administrative situation. Non-married Moroccans are not entitled to acquiring a family record book, as well as the numerous administrative documents that only get issued with the book. Also, in case they decide to break up, problems will arise. The question of inheritance, for instance: According to Moroccan law, non-married women have no right to any belongings or property legally belonging to her partner. The same goes for the kids, if the couple have any. All children of unmarried parents are considered illegitimate, and there is no legal option for a mother to demand maintenance allowances from the father.

Non-married Moroccans are not entitled to acquiring a family record book, as well as the numerous administrative documents that only get issued with the book.

For mixed couples, where one is Moroccan and the other from another country, other problems might arise. One is acquiring the right documents for settling in Morocco, which can be an administrative jungle. In order for a foreigner living with a Moroccan partner to get a residency permit, the couple need to find an acceptable way to justify their living together, which usually means having to lie most of the time. This is made in order to avoid revealing to the authorities a socially and legally unacceptable situation. It is not rare that mixed couples get married only in order for the non-Moroccan partner to be legally protected and socially accepted.

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