The Moroccan Family Code

Photo: Houssaine Zouitni, UNDP Morocco
Photo: Houssaine Zouitni, UNDP Morocco

In Morocco as elsewhere, women traditionally lack legal protection. When marriage ends through death, divorce or other estrangement, women often lose their land, homes and other property. Strengthening their legal status is a key step toward an environment that empowers women, taking children’s rights into account.

In 2007, UNDP launched a Joint Programme with UNIFEM and UNICEF to help the Moroccan Ministry of Justice to do just that. The partners have worked to ensure implementation of the Moroccan Family Code, which was reformed in 2004. The Code establishes a less discriminatory legal framework governing property rights, inheritance and divorce. Its aim is to help guard against claims by a spouse, and to protect against the dispossession of women after they are abandoned, separated or divorced. Just as important, it will increase women’s bargaining power in decisions about their households and farms, since both women and men are now considered equals in a couple under the law.

Specifically, the code stipulates the same minimum marriage age for girls and boys. It recognizes women’s rights to divorce, alimony and custody of their children.

Four years after the code was enacted, however, work still needs to be done to put it into practice. Family Sections, specific structures in Moroccan courts, are charged with implementing the code and all matters related to family. The Joint Programme attempts to accelerate implementation of the Code by providing financial and technical support to the Ministry of Justice and the courts.

The project is establishing a mediation and reconciliation mechanism within the 5 pilot Family Sections. In addition, social assistants have been recruited to make the link between the judges and the women and men seeking justice services. The success of the pilot means that it could be successfully replicated across all Family Sections.

One strategic axis of the project is to build institutional capacity to enforce the law. A specific professional training program unit for family court officials has been created within the Ministry of Justice. Moreover, an information-management system within the Family Sections is being set up to ease sharing of information, creation of statistics and statistical analysis, etc.

The project is developing additional mechanisms to effectively apply the law. While it works to assess the current system governing alimony and the division of property, it is establishing an assistance fund to benefit the children of divorced women. Finally, project developers are surveying women to benchmark their satisfaction as the new code is implemented.

The project can be counted as successful if it increases the awareness of women and men about their rights and responsibilities in marriage, in case of divorce, ensures the implementation of a just alimony and property-division systems, and prevents extreme poverty for divorced women and their children.