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Study reveals alarming hike in unmarried mothers in Morocco

By Martin Jay, for CNN
Young mothers and pregnant women take refuge in a protection unit in Casablanca, Morocco.
Young mothers and pregnant women take refuge in a protection unit in Casablanca, Morocco.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A recent study says number of unwed mothers in Morocco rose dramatically from 2008 to 2009
  • Study shows 60% of unwed mothers are younger than 26 and a third younger than 20
  • Strong prejudice still remains against unwed mothers from most groups of society
RELATED TOPICS
  • Morocco
  • Casablanca
  • Women's Issues

Casablanca, Morocco (CNN) -- Single mothers in Morocco are breaking records.

A recent study published by a Casablanca support group for single mothers says the number of Morocco's unmarried mothers in 2009 is at least double those in 2008 -- 27,200 compared with 11,016 the year before, according to the Institution Nationale de Solidarite Avec Les Femmes en Distresse.

As in most Muslim countries, it is considered an intolerable shame on a family in Morocco if a daughter falls pregnant outside marriage. In many cases, families totally reject a daughter who becomes pregnant before marriage.

Morocco's unmarried mothers are mostly young, said Houda El Bourahi, the institute's director. The study shows 60% are younger than 26 and a third younger than 20, she said.

According to the 350-page report, the mothers are often in "vulnerable" professions, such as house servants, and the majority have a low level of schooling. Often, the women believe that their sexual partners will marry them, and so agree to their demands, according to the study.

Despite Morocco being modern in so many respects, strong prejudice still remains against unwed mothers from most groups of society.

"It's time to put an end to prejudices held against these women though who are considered by (Moroccan) society as prostitutes," El Bourahi said. "These women are rejected by their families and by society and are not protected by the law."

Since the end of last year, 7,000 women in Casablanca alone had been assisted at the organization's Center of Listening on the outskirts of the city, the commercial capital of Morocco with a population of almost 4 million. Furthermore, 2,000 children have been accepted legally by the civil state and 540 have been recognized by their fathers.

The women's rights agenda has accelerated dramatically in recent years in Morocco largely following an initiative by King Mohammed VI to give women more equality, both at home and in the workplace. A new law adopted in 2004 gave women more rights as wives, for example.

Still, few men accept unmarried mothers and their offspring despite less of a stigma these days toward women who take up jobs and consider virginity to be an outdated virtue. While many men consider single mothers to be prostitutes, sex workers reportedly represent a tiny percentage of Morocco's unmarried mothers.