Lebanon moves towards scrapping controversial rape law
Parliament would need to ratify the decision to change the law, but NGO Abaad said the committee's decision on Wednesday was a key first step.
"We hope that parliament will move quickly to cancel this article and make the other amendments" proposed by the committee, said Alia Awada, advocacy manager for Abaad's campaign to drop Article 522 of the penal code.
The controversial article deals with rape, including against minors, assault, kidnapping and forced marriage.
"If a valid marriage contract exists between the perpetrator of one of these crimes... and the abused, the prosecution is suspended," the article reads. "If a verdict has been issued, the implementation is suspended."
A proposal to scrap the article was introduced last year but the committee only approved it on Wednesday, along with changes to other sections of the penal code.
The panel proposed raising the penalty for assaults against girls aged under 15 to a maximum of seven years.
Awada said she was hopeful that parliament would vote the changes into law.
"The committee took its time during discussions to reach consensus among all the members from the main political parties to avoid any obstacles to the vote in the parliament later," she told AFP.
There are no precise figures on how many rapists marry their victims to avoid punishment, but Awada said the practice mainly took place in rural areas.
"Many girls come under pressure to marry their rapists under the guise of 'protecting honour' or 'avoiding scandal,'" she said.
In December, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Lebanon to repeal Article 522, saying it "allows for a second assault on a rape survivor's rights".
"Protecting honour should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatising them," the rights watchdog said.
Lebanon largely leaves so-called personal status issues to the discretion of religious authorities of the country's 18 recognised sects.