New law drafted to criminalize early marriages

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Mon, 02 Oct 2017 - 02:50 GMT

Egyptian government drafts law to Criminalize early marriage - File Photo

Egyptian government drafts law to Criminalize early marriage - File Photo

CAIRO – 2 October 2017: Egypt has moved to criminalize the phenomenon of underage marriages that prevails in many rural areas across the country, after a man was arrested for marrying 27 underage girls to unofficially.

For this to happen, the Ministry of Health announced drafting a law criminalizing both customary and early marriages. This comes following a Saturday speech by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi drawing attention to the huge number of cases of girls as young as 12 years old getting married without having official documentation.

One in six women in Egypt still marry early especially in rural and deprived areas, according to a report by the Word Bank Group issued in March 2016.

Recently, one of the many cases in Egypt has been revealed attracting attention to this incident. In one of the villages of Al-Mahallah al-Kubra, in the middle of the Nile Delta, an imam approved 27 cases of customary marriages for girls below 18 years old.

Because of a law drafted in 2008 as part of Egypt’s Child Law to raise the age of marriage to 18 prohibiting child marriages, this imam convinced the families in village that couples could have customary marriages until girls reach the marriageable age, after which the bond would be made legal.

In order to ensure girls’ rights, the husbands sign on a trust receipt that the imam keeps with him.

Yet, a husband of one of the girls in the village has refused to register the marriage legally and recognize his own son when his wife reached marriageable age.

Thus, leading the mother of the girl to notify the prosecution about the imam. Investigations were carried out into the father’s affiliation to the son after a lawsuit was filed by the girl’s family.

Only 27 illegal marriage cases were discovered in this small village, pushing authorities to search for similar cases. In some incidents, girls are divorced or widowed, and left alone responsible for bringing up children while at the age of 12.

Child marriage in Egypt is closely associated with deeply rooted cultural practices and girls’ disproportionate access to education.

As a girl reaches adolescence, community norms dictate that they should be married, perpetuating the cycle of illiteracy and poverty. This problem causes many social, health and psychological impacts on girls besides the problem of having illegitimate children, stated the Minister of Health Ahmed Emad.

The law of early marriage drafted by Egypt in 2008 prohibits, but does not criminalize the registration of child marriages.

To combat this problem, a law has been drafted to “organize marriage registration” and thus the marriage registrars or as known in Arabic, “Ma’zouns,” meaning the one who documents marriages officially. The law determines that marriages below the age of 18 years old are illegal.

New conditions were added to ensure marriageable age, according to the new draft law, which stipulates that marriage registrars “must not allow or ratify marriage contracts for those below 18,” and “should be provided the identity card or the passport of couples to identify their legal age.”

The draft law also reviews the procedures and resolutions of birth registrations to assure that the data related to the date of birth and age are accurate, added Minister of Health Ahmed Emad.

Among Egypt’s efforts, a five-year national strategy to prevent child marriage was launched in 2014. The process was led by the National Population Council, a governmental body which establishes national population policies and strategies in Egypt.

This strategy aims to recognize child marriage as a health and population issue to reduce the prevalence of early marriage by 50 percent within five years, and to face the proposals to lower the minimum age of marriage.

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