The author reflects on the challenges faced by young women in the country of her birth, where extramarital sex is a criminal offence

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I left Morocco more than 15 years ago. With the years and the distance, I have surely forgotten quite how difficult it is to live without the freedoms that have become so natural to me. In France it can be a struggle to imagine the disorientation that comes with a young girl’s discovery of her sexual self in a country where Islam is the state religion and the laws are extremely conservative on everything that relates to sex.

I am Moroccan and, in Morocco, Muslim laws apply to me, whatever my personal relationship with the religion. When I was a teenager, even though this went against their personal convictions, my parents must have explained to me that it was forbidden to have sexual relations outside marriage or even to be seen in a public place with a man who wasn’t from my family. I learned that I could not be homosexual, have an abortion or cohabit. If I were to have a child without being married, I could face criminal charges and my child would have no legal status; they would be a bastard. The “family code” of 2004 allows a child born outside marriage to be registered, but if the father will not acknowledge it the mother must choose the child’s name from a list, all including the prefix abd, meaning “servant”, “slave” or “subordinate”. Born of an unknown father, the child will be a societal outcast and subject to social and economic exclusion. To avoid this exclusion and not risk arrest for an extramarital relationship, hundreds of women abandon children born outside wedlock. According to the Moroccan charity Insaf, in 2010 alone, 24 babies on average were abandoned every day, which adds up to almost 9,000 babies per year without identity or family, not to mention the corpses found in public bins.

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