The documentary, BASTARDS, is about illegitimate children and the fathers who abandon them. By following single mothers fighting for justice, the documentary addresses big social issues through small human stories….heart-warming and heart-breaking stories captured in the raw, as Moroccan men and women clash about sex, children, marriage and money. It's a surprising contemporary documentary that touches anyone who has loved or been betrayed. The filmmaker is Deborah Perkin
In the West, a documentary about single mothers, and children abandoned by their fathers is no big deal, but in Muslim countries, where unmarried sex is illegal, the stakes are incredibly high. This timely film captures stories from the cutting edge of Islam.
Illegitimate children in Morocco are outcasts, non people, bastards ... but recent legal reforms give single mothers the right to register their children, either alone, or by persuading the father to recognise the child in court. Registration on the state birth register means access to education and health care, and a respectable position in society. BASTARDS follows single mothers battling for these rights for their children.
The radical Casablanca charity L'Association Solidarite Feminine opened its case files to us, and the Moroccan Ministry of Justice granted unprecedented access to film in the Agadir courts. The production team Deborah Perkin (former BBC Senior Producer) and Nora Fakim (former BBC Morocco Correspondent) lived in a Casablanca slum for two months to be amongst the single mothers they were filming. This is a rare glimpse into a hidden world.
In most Muslim countries a documentary like BASTARDS would be unthinkable....but thanks to brave campaigners and a socially tolerant king, Morocco has led the way in social and legal reforms that help single mothers and their illegitimate children to secure a future.
THE STORIES AND CHARACTERS
Rabha El Haymar’s story is the spine of the film. She is a single mother and her daughter is illegitimate because under Morocco's family law reforms, her traditional marriage as a child bride was not legal. She battles through the courts to legalise the marriage, to register her daughter and to force the father to accept his child. We witness extraordinary scenes.… the courtroom lies of her child’s father, verbal abuse from her child's grandfather, Rabha's confrontation with her mother asking why she married her off so young, and finally her triumph in the courts.
Along the way, we also meet larger-than-life Fatiha, tirelessly pressing the father of her child for maintenance, law student Naim, a young man who is distressed about growing up with the shame of illegitimacy, Saida who was rejected by her family and almost gave birth at a police station, and Kultum who is too young to be a mother following her rape, and is struggling with the responsibility.
L'Association Solidarite Feminine's founder Aicha Chenna has given her working life to supporting single mothers to bring up their children with dignity. Her tireless campaigning has gradually changed social and legal attitudes. In BASTARDS we meet her and her equally feisty female colleagues, the social workers and lawyers who work on the frontline with single mothers.
Sex outside marriage may be illegal in Muslim countries but that doesn’t stop it happening. Inevitably, without sex education, or easy access to contraception or to legal abortion, unwanted illegitimate babies are born. With 6500 babies abandoned every year, Morocco faces a crisis, but instead of taking a punitive approach, it encourages single parents to be reconciled and their children to be legitimised. Radical reforms in 2004 to its family law code, the Moudawana, put Morocco at the forefront of developing human rights for single mothers and their illegitimate children. You can read an English translation of the Moudawana here.
WHY DID I MAKE THIS DOCUMENTARY?
Deborah Perkin explains: I wouldn't pretend that I predicted the Arab Spring, but in 2009 I did work out that Morocco was pushing ahead with democratic reforms and that something interesting was happening in Muslim North Africa. It all started with a holiday with my mum. We had a tour of Morocco and found that everywhere we went women wanted to talk to us, take photos with us, ask us what we thought of their country. This was a completely different experience from traveling in the other Muslim countries we had visited, where women were much less visible in the workforce and on the streets. And so began my passion for Morocco and its people, which led to me putting my all into making this documentary.
When I got home I searched the internet and discovered that Morocco had many women's rights and human rights organizations. They had campaigned for legal reforms which eventually became law in 2004, amending the Family Code, the Moudawana. Child marriages were outlawed with the age of sexual consent for men and women set at 18, polygamy was virtually outlawed, and women's child custody rights improved. Single mothers could register their children alone, choosing a father's surname from a state list if the father refused to give the child his name - and once registered, children are entitled to education and healthcare.
I didn't want to make an issue-based report on legal reform but a moving documentary showing personal stories of women using the new law. Eventually I found Aicha Chenna and L'Association Solidarite Feminine. She and her staff welcomed me in to their radical charity, set up in the face of death threats from conservative Islamists, but working all the time to reintegrate single mothers into society, and make sure their illegitimate children have the best possible start in life. Their work became my obsession. I had to make a documentary with them and the women they support.