In a move towards gender equality, Morocco has officially criminalized violence against women, after a new law came into effect this week. 

The legislation, which was approved by parliament in February, imposes fines - and in some cases prison sentences - on offenders of rape, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse.

Bassima Hakkaoui, the country's minister of women's affairs, said the law is "one of the most important texts strengthening the national legal arsenal in the area of equality of the sexes."

The legislation also amended the definition of sexual harassment to include "unsolicited acts, statements or signals of a sexual nature, delivered in person, online or via telephone."

The law also bans forced marriages, though child marriages have been banned in Morocco since 2004. 

However, legal loopholes have made it possible for girls under the age of 18 to get married, a common phenomenon in rural areas.

"A step in the right direction"

But, not everyone is happy

A number of women's rights activists expressed disappointment in the new law, highlighting the fact that the legislation does not explicitly criminalize marital rape. 

"The law that was adopted yesterday disappointed us enormously," said Nouzha Skalli, the former minister for women's affairs, according to The Washington Post.

"It only modified some articles of the penal code and can't be considered like a great breakthrough in the struggle against violence against women."

International NGO Human Rights Watch said the new law "provides protections for survivors but contains gaps that should be addressed." 

"Due to societal stigma, many cases of violence will continue unreported"

"The law is incomplete"

Violence against women in Morocco is an epidemic issue

The country has witnessed a string of alarming sexual assault cases in recent years. The cases include gang-rape, rape in public places, as well as the assault of minors and people with special needs.

According to a 2009 government survey, 63 percent of women between the ages of 18 to 65 said they had experienced some form of violence.

In 2014, Morocco repealed its "marry the rapist" law, two years after the country was put under international spotlight following the suicide of 16-year-old Amina al-Filali.

Al-Filali committed suicide seven months after she was forced to marry the man who raped her in an attempt to save her "family's honor." 

However, this still hasn't made things better for women.

In 2016, a 16-year-old Moroccan teenager committed suicide after being abducted and gang-raped by eight men. 

The victim, whose autopsy revealed she was pregnant at the time, set herself on fire after perpetrators threatened to publish pictures of the rape.

In August 2016, four teenagers raped a 26-year-old woman in a public bus and bystanders did not intervene to help, sending shock-waves across the world. 

Following the incident, activists took to the streets across Morocco to demand that women be protected from sexual violence, especially in public spaces.

Last month, the story of Khadija, a 17-year-old victim of sexual assault, drew worldwide attention after details of the assault were made public.

The teen told local media that she had been repeatedly raped by over 12 men and her body was forcibly tattooed. 

Police have since arrested several men in relation to the crime, with families of the suspects firmly denying Khadija's allegations.