On October 27, 2016, 16-year-old Sanaa and 17-year-old Hajar were arrested and detained after they were caught kissing and hugging on the roof of a house.

Photographs were sent to Sanna’s mother, who brought them directly to the police. Same-sex relationships are a crime in Morocco punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, and  oftentimes those accused are charged and convicted through coerced written confessions, without proper legal counsel, or with no counsel at all. Morocco’s treatment of the LGBTQ community is in direct conflict with its own 2011 Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and (in this case) the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The girls were released after a week of detainment and, ultimately, charges were dropped in December 2016. However, the issue of state-sanctioned violations of human rights against the LGBTQ community and those placed in custody remains rampant in Morocco.

When Sanaa’s mother discovered the photographs of her daughter kissing Hajar, she brought both directly to the police, where they were promptly detained for forty-eight hours on suspicion of homosexual conduct. Under Article 489 of Morocco’s Penal Code, they faced charges of “licentious or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.” This immediate arrest violates Morocco’s obligations under the ICCPR, ratified in 1979. Article 17 reads: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy,” and the girls’ arrest based off a photograph surreptitiously taken and brought to the police is a clear violation of that provision. There is a clear disconnect between Morocco’s Penal Code and new 2011 Constitution, which reads in Article 22: “no one shall inflict upon another, under any pretext whatsoever, any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which undermines their dignity.”

Human Rights Watch documented the plight of those arrested in Morocco in a 2013 report, revealing the systematic imprisonment of countless detainees based off incriminating written confessions, which defendants were unable to contest despite accusations of inaccuracies, torture, and coercion. This stands in sharp contrast to Morocco’s Constitution, whose Preamble envisions a “society of solidarity where all enjoy security, liberty, equality of opportunities, of respect for their dignity and for social justice,” as well as Article 293 of Morocco’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which forbids evidence obtained through coercion or torture. Sanaa and Hajar allege that they were both compelled after their arrest to sign identical documents they were not permitted to read, papers that turned out to be confessions to “sexual deviancy.” Article 290 of Morocco’s Penal Code reads, “records and reports prepared by officers of the judicial police in regard to determining misdemeanors and infractions are to be deemed trustworthy,” granting the judge in this case full authority to use those written confessions as sufficient evidence to detain the girls alongside adults.

In the case of Sanaa and Hajar, Hajar’s mother did not even learn of her detainment for twenty-four hours, and was told by her daughter that she was “mistreated by other prisoners.” Before 16-year-old Sanaa was eventually sent to a juvenile detention center (three days later), she was forced to undress for inspection in front of the other adult prisoners. This is yet another violation by Morocco of its obligations under the ICCPR, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 10 of the ICCPR reads, “Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status.” The CRC, ratified by Morocco in 1993, protects children from “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and provides that “every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults…and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family.”

Continued pressure from Moroccan and regional civil society institutions, along with international governments, is crucial to compel Morocco to abide by its Constitution and UN agreements, to decriminalize same-sex relationships, and to ensure that children like Sanaa and Hajar do not face the humiliation and trauma that comes with unjust detention.