Touria (the first name has been changed) walks through the noisy alleys of Hay Hassani and stops at the foot of a decrepit building. She scans the surroundings suspiciously, then rushes up the stairs. On the second floor of this old building typical of this popular district of Casablanca, a room of about 10 square meters serves as a refuge. Two mattresses on the floor, a gas stove, a refrigerator and a television. Touria turns up the volume. “The neighbors are listening at the doors”, she whispers.
Since she moved into this room nine months ago with Maha (name has been changed), her 8-year-old daughter, her presence has raised questions in the neighborhood. Where is the father? Is she married? Are the police aware? “I said I was divorced, but the neighbors started questioning my daughter, who they know to be more vulnerable, tells this woman of forty years. During the confinement, they were spying on us. This already harsh situation has become an ordeal since the health crisis. “
In Morocco, where abortion is prohibited and extramarital affairs are punishable by prison, at least 50,000 births outside marriage are registered each year, according to associations. In addition to risking prison, the mother cannot force the father to recognize the child by using a DNA test and therefore cannot obtain alimony.
For fear of the police, but also of their own families, many of these young mothers abandon their babies or, like Touria, raise their child in secret, far from their family. “These are women who face people’s aggressiveness, humiliation, harassment every day”, explains Meriem Othmani, president of the National Institute for Solidarity with Women in Distress (Insaf), which she founded in 1999.
“No one to turn to”
Isolated, or even excluded in normal times, these mothers have been particularly affected by the crisis due to Covid-19. “Moroccan society is based on family solidarity, especially during difficult times. However, since the crisis, this very fragile category has no one to turn to ”, adds the activist. Like Touria, who works as a housekeeper for private individuals, single mothers often have insecure jobs without social protection.
“When I told him that I was expecting a child, a few weeks later, he denied and called me a prostitute” Touria, single mother in Casablanca
During the very strict confinement that lasted almost four months in Morocco, many of these workers lost their jobs. “My employers told me: ‘If you want to stay, you don’t go out of the house anymore’, explains Touria. But what was I going to do with my daughter? Even the school was closed! “, continues the mother. The first three months, the state paid aid to informal workers, the equivalent of 74 euros per month for a two-person household. But it was insufficient to live. Hardly enough to pay the rent for a small room in Casablanca.
Helped by the Insaf association, Touria ended up finding work a few months ago. The public school welcomes students again, but only three days a week. The rest of the time, Maha is locked up all day, alone in the small room where her mother leaves her a bucket as a toilet, to prevent her from using the ones on the landing. “I’m ashamed but I don’t want her to go out, I’m afraid people will come after her!” “, she confides, distraught.
The young woman from a village near Taroudant, in the south of the country, became pregnant in 2012, after an evening of which she has no memory. It was with friends, but “I don’t know what he put in my glass. When I told him that I was expecting a child, a few weeks later, he denied it and called me a prostitute ”, breathes Touria.
Terrorized and tormented by shame, she hid her pregnancy until the day she gave birth. “I had blood everywhere, I begged the paramedic to take me to the hospital for free. He convinced me to give my baby to a barren woman. I said yes, as long as he lets me see a doctor. The next day, I managed to escape with Maha ”, Touria remembers, a smile tinged with melancholy on her face.
Since the onset of the crisis, associations have been working hard to help young women like Touria to reintegrate into a society where religious conservatism remains very strong. But today, they recognize that they have reached their limits. “We are running out of funds, sighs Bouchra Zine, an Insaf official. We are called upon all day long by women who have no more work, no more food for their babies or because they have suffered violence during confinement. ” The cases are multiplying.
Collected by the association when her daughter was born in 2015, Mouna also received financial assistance and psychological support after her pregnancy. The 24-year-old mother with the childish face lives in a tiny room, built on a roof in Casablanca’s Oulfa district, cut off from the rest of the world. Trained in the pastry shop in the center of Insaf, she had finally reached a stable situation on the eve of the pandemic. “Since the confinement, I have no more work, there is no hope in this world, neither for me nor for my daughter”, murmurs the young woman with the big sad eyes. Close to her, little Amina, 5, sparkles with life.