Written, directed and filmed by award-winning documentary maker Deborah Perkin, Bastards tells the moving and uplifting story of Rabha El Haimer and her heroic fight to have her informal marriage recognized and her daughter legitimized by the Moroccan judicial system. It is also a complex and compelling portrait of the lives of ordinary women in Morocco, caught between the demands of Islamic tradition and their desires for individual rights within a male-dominated, Islamic society. Through Rabha’s story, Bastards exposes the contemporary issues facing Islamic women as never seen before.
In rural Moroccan communities the traditional ‘fatha’ ceremony is common, and in every respect the women involved are regarded as wives, who must obey their husbands utterly. At 14 Rabha was forced into such a ‘marriage’ with a man she had never met. After her daughter was born, she discovered that the wedding had no legal status and her precious child Salma was illegitimate.
Sex outside marriage is illegal, as in all Muslim countries, so women like Rabha are ostracised, subject to prosecution and their children exist in limbo. Their children’s non-status means their fathers can reject them and fail to support them, in the knowledge that the law is effectively on their side. Illegitimate children are bastards, second-class citizens, condemned to a life of discrimination.
But Rabha refused to remain a victim. Despite being unable to read or write she embarked on a crusade to compel Salma’s father and his family to face up to their responsibilities, and to gain full citizenship for her child. In 2004, the Moroccan government made the most radical attempt to date in a Muslim country to give women individual rights under Islamic law, with the reform of the ‘Mudawana’ or Family Code. But with centuries of entrenched beliefs to overturn, real societal changes have been slow to materialise. Rabha faced an incredibly daunting struggle against tradition, her own family and the legal system.
Helping her fight this battle was a unique and radical charity in Casablanca, L’Association Solidarité Feminine, founded by the fearless Aicha Chenna, charismatic social worker Soumia Idman and human rights lawyer Lamia Faridi. Rabha’s story is interwoven with many others including a mistress fighting for child maintenance, a young student who cannot get the job he wants because of his illegitimacy and a single mother whose boyfriend tried to sell their baby.
Filmmaker Deborah Perkin spent four years researching and negotiating unprecedented access. She spent many months living amongst her subjects in a Casablanca slum, and persuaded the Moroccan Ministry of Justice to allow her to film inside a family court, a privilege rarely, if ever, granted to a filmmaker before.
Revealing the many facets of a modern Muslim country, Bastards is a deeply moving, inspiring and often funny portrait of courage in the face of immense adversity.