CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ President Hosni Mubarak has decreed an end to an Egyptian law allowing rapists to go free if they marry their victims.

The government newspaper Al-Ahram quoted the Minister of Justice, Farouk Seif el-Nasr, as saying the law has ``encouraged the criminals to perpetrate their crime instead of deterring them.''

Parents of rape victims have used the law, which dates to 1904, as a way to regain family honor. Rapists have used it to escape punishment.

Mubarak intervened after a heated debate in the parliament during which some lawmakers objected to changing the law. They argued the law was in victims' interest, because otherwise their marriage prospects were slim.

The Cabinet endorsed Mubarak's decree on Saturday, according to Al-Ahram, and sent it to parliament for ratification. The parliament's legislative committee approved the bill Monday and it now awaits a vote by the full chamber. It was not clear when a vote would take place.

Generally, such votes are unanimous in the 444-member parliament, which is dominated by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

Government rape statistics are not available in Egypt, and human rights activists say most victims do not report the crime.