The number of women who were married before the age of 18 had declined from 19.5 per cent in 2000 to 16.6 per cent in 2005, it remained steady at 16.6 per cent from 2005 to 2008 – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain
CAIRO – 27 December 2018: About 400 kilometers west of Cairo, through the rough terrains and desert roads, young girls and women live like the dead, trapped inside huts and shacks made of mud, palm leaves, and wicker, waiting for their bodies to get violated, against their wills.
Their only sin that they were born “females,” among an environment ruled by obsolete traditions and customs that force them into tribal marriages, with no documentation or respect to any laws.
Females in tribal villages have no saying over their future, as they are enforced to get married once their families “decide” that they hit puberty, even if the groom is too old; if a female dared to refuse, she would get assaulted and grounded until she is transferred to another prison to have a taste of a different kind of torture.
Egypt Today made a visit to the villages at the El-Wahat el-Bahariya (Bahariya Oasis), to expose the crises of “tribal marriages” and their victims of children, girls and divorced women, after they got mutilated psychologically and physically, with no rights, under the rule of “customs,” which consider unmarried females as a “shame.”
Let us look at a set of statistics on tribal marriage for minors at El-Wahat villages:
1- At least 36% of tribal marriages at El-Wahat villages are under the age of 16, according to statistics ran by the National Council for Women.
2- According to the UNICEF, infants who are born to mothers under the age of 19 have 60% higher chances of mortality.
3- The number of women who were married before the age of 18 had declined from 19.5 per cent in 2000 to 16.6 per cent in 2005, it remained steady at 16.6 per cent from 2005 to 2008.
4- Only 21.5% of women marry someone from outside of the tribe, while 75.5% are forced to inter-tribal marriages.
5- 41.5% of women married to other tribe members are subjected to abused and violence.
6- 11% of tribal marriage victims were kicked out of their homes.
7- 21% of tribal marriages do not last.
8- 86% of tribal female villagers do not own any lands because they are deprived of their legal right to inherit.
9- Around 70 tribes in Egypt allow females to marry according to unfair and illegal traditions.
10- According to the National Council for Women, 75 cases of undocumented tribal marriages take place in the tribal areas in Marsa Matruh every year.
“Like most girls in my village I was forced to get married. I stayed at a mud house of two bedrooms with my mother-in-law, she made my life hell on earth,” Amal M., 25, a woman who lives in a village in Bahariya Oasis told Egypt Today in an interview. “I spent every minute cursing the day I was forced into this marriage. I was being treated like a slave, I felt I was a burden, despite that I was the one who was working every day for 14 hours to receive a LE30 wage and return home to continue a life of deprivation and humiliation.
“I sustained a lot of beating and humiliation by my husband who would brag about his manliness while letting me get humiliated and discomfited by his brothers until he divorced me for another woman, took away my three daughters and refused to grant me any of my rights, as here, no authority is over these futile traditions and customs,” Amal added in a choked voice.
Amal begged her mother-in-law to see her daughters. “I will let you die in regret after you hear them call another women ‘mother’.” Only then, Amal knew she has to break free of her tribal cuffs and shackles and go to the Family Court and file a lawsuit to get a child custody sentence, but even after she got a court sentence, she was threatened to be murdered for “bringing disgrace to her family,” and her ex-husband tried to burn her house. She even got threatened by both families’ elders that she would be displaced and kicked out of her village if she ever resorted to the law even again. “And I am back to the bitter reality.
“I live with my divorced mother, after my father left her for another woman, in a street full of divorced women in a mud room, just waiting, after years, for my husband allow me to see my children.”
With gazes full of anger and threats, family members of a 16-year-old girl are constantly threatening her, “You must get married!”
This young girl had been forced to marry before she even reached her 16. She was threatened of being tortured and deprived of food in case she refused the traditions and customs of the tribe, but her bad luck carried on, when her much older husband died, leaving her pregnant, with no documentations that prove the baby’s parentage.
“I never felt as a child,” the teenage widow told Egypt Today anonymously in an interview.
Aggression against this young girl started at a very early age when her family got her genitals mutilated and got her engaged at the age of 13 to marry after two years.
A 15-year-old girl that suddenly found herself in a situation where she has “an obligation to do some things that she does not yet understand and is being rebuked for not doing them and not getting her husband pleased with her.”
Before she delivered the baby, the husband died and she had to stay in the house in black clothes, not even allowed to meet her family, until she delivered her daughter and faced the wrath of her mother-in-law, who kicked her out of the house for being a “bad omen!”
“Then, I returned to my family with a baby that has no papers and his father’s family won’t recognize him, so my father had to register the child under his name.
“After months of isolation, my father and family elders started looking for another man to marry me, as according to our customs, it is a shame for a girl to stay unmarried.”
This, however, is not the first case of a husband that died and left a child with no papers or documents, as many other cases were the result of tribal marriage.
Like most of her counterparts, Halima A. married when she was 15, and was moved into another house to serve and then get out to the field to work for a small wage through the dates harvesting season that leaves her with severe backaches for the long working hours.
Halima’s sin was that she did not deliver any “boys.”
“I put up with how my husband used to punish and insult me, especially every time I get pregnant and become less able to work, and also his family members would eventually start humiliating and hit me when they discover that I have been carrying a baby girl,” Halima said.
“At the end, he kicked me out of the house and married another woman to get a son, and he forgot all about his three daughters, who have no one to ask or care for them,” she added. “My eyesight got weakened from crying so much, I have eye cataract and I cannot see like I used to.”
“My mother-in-law tied me up with a robe and kept hitting me to sign some papers to waive my rights, and when I refused, she grabbed a knife and stuck it in my hand and left me soaking in my own blood until I finally signed the papers,” Rania G. said.
“I got married to an unemployed man who lived with his mother as he was her only child, and despite of my young age then, my family insisted he was the right husband, so I agreed, but actually, I lived with a cruel mother-in-law who knew no mercy.
“She tortured and hit me constantly. She made me hate living with this man who I was working to cover his expenses. I resorted to my family, who did not support me and warned me that divorce is a sin, so I stayed, living like a maid, not allowed to complain, until my mother-in-law decided to kick me out of the house, but before this, she forced me to sign some papers to waive my rights.
“I escaped, divorced him, and has been living in a small room in my brother’s house. I also had to work at a dates factory to cover my expenses,” Rania added.
Another teenager was about to get married until disagreements between the two families disrupted the marriage, days before the wedding day. And after nearly two years of “shame and rumors”, some family member agreed to marry her, shockingly however, his mother wanted to make sure of the girl’s “virginity.”
“I was forced to undergo a virginity test by my new mother-in-law, and then her disabled son continued humiliating and torturing me for months, until my family agreed to divorce me after I exposed his disgusting actions,” S. A. told Egypt Today. “Before I got divorced at the Family Court for the damage that I suffered, I was threatened to get murdered by my ex-husband’s family, I was afraid to go out of the house, even with my family.
“Now, my family are looking for another husband who would accept to marry me after the divorce sentence that I got from the court, as they preserve it as a shame that I brought onto myself,” she added.
Another girl, S. M., tried to commit suicide as she had been forced by her brother to leave her daughter and marry an old man, who had three other wives.
“Ever sense I was at school my mother and family would always tell me that it is a shame to stay unmarried, and this really made me hate the idea of marriage.
“I married for the first time but got divorced in less than a year because of my young age and my inability to carry a child then, and then I got married to a widow who was double my age and I was still a minor then and couldn’t bear to handle the burden of a house with three families living in it, until he divorced me, leaving me with a daughter without papers or documents,” she added. “I tried to get rid of my own life as I was afraid I would lose my daughter after the new husband laid a condition that I must go to his house alone, saying he will not raise someone else’s daughter.”
Egyptian lawyer and human rights defender Reda al-Danbouki said that several honor crimes were committed to preserve the customs and traditions of tribal societies.
Danbouki, the executive director of the Women's Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness, referred that the spread of undocumented marriage and forcing girls to marry at an early age happen due to numerous economic, social and cultural factors, most importantly the tribes consider such marriages an essential part of family traditions.
In Qena, 150 cases attempted to commit suicide in 2017, according to official statistics, due to tribal marriages, Danbouki asserted.
Danbouki said that in many areas, women are forced to marry from inside the tribe to preserve the inherited properties, adding that sometimes girls who refuse to marry this way are threatened with death.
Report translated by Mohamed Zain.