Girls can be as young as 11-years-old when they get married, and often come from poor rural villages. | Photo: Reuters
CAIRO – 23 January 2019: Marriage at an early age is one of the most serious social problems in various Arab and African countries as it represents a form of violence against women.
According to the Egyptian Child Act 2008, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for females and males. In order to counter this phenomenon, the Egyptian government imposed more severe penalties on people who back the marriage of minors, who can be imprisoned for 7 years and pay a fine.
Recently, a statistical study revealed that Beheira governorate ranks first in terms of early marriages, followed by Fayoum and Dakahlia. Because of this phenomenon, about 21,400 students dropped out of education.
In June 2018, Egypt's government proposed a new draft law that includes amendments to the child law article 12 of 1996 which states cases in which parents could be deprived of the authority of guardianship over the girl or her property.
A father who participates in marrying his daughter or son who is under 18 years of age shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not less than 1 year and deprived of his guardianship over her or him. Any person who signs the marriage contract shall be punished by the same penalty.
A marriage registrar who witnesses a case of child marriage shall notify the Attorney General. A marriage registrar who doesn't notify the Attorney General shall be subjected to imprisonment for a period no less than a year.
A marriage contract may be authenticated for a child who is under 18 years old, but the contract may not be validated without the approval of the competent family court upon the relevant request of the Public Prosecution.
The Egyptian law stated that a father is the natural guardian of his minor legitimate children, both sons, and daughters. A father cannot be deprived of the natural guardianship of his minor children unless he has been found unfit.
The marriage registrar, who documents child marriages, will be prevented from officiating marriages or will pay a fine, and if it’s proved to be a repeated action, he might face a jail penalty of 1 year.
“Child marriage affects both boys and girls. So, the proposed bill is against it for the protection of both genders. We cannot specify one gender, as it contradicts with the constitutional equality principle,” Hawary said. The current law prohibits but does not criminalize the registration of child marriages.
The draft bill follows calls by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on September 30, 2017, to impose disciplinary measures on the customary marriage of underage girls. “I was surprised that the number of married 12-year-olds was not low,” Sisi said during a ceremony marking the population census that took place in April.
Sisi wondered how these young girls can assume the responsibility of marriage and a household. “This is something that pains me and pains anyone with a real conscience who cares for their sons and daughters,” he said.
According to the 2017 national census released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the total number of women over the age of 18 who could legally get married has reached 27.7 million, with 23 million women married, including119,000 girls who have been married before reaching the age of 18.
Meanwhile, 18,000 women got married before the age of 16, representing 15 percent of girls who got married before the legal age of marriage. The Ministry of Health reported that 500,000 children are born every year to adolescent mothers.
Among Egypt’s efforts to control the phenomenon, a 5-year national strategy to prevent child marriage was launched in 2014. The process was led by the National Population Council, a governmental body that 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 5 years, and to fight the proposals to lower the minimum age of marriage.
On October 15, 2017, Egypt’s National Council for Women launched the “No to Underage Marriage” campaign in cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Christian clerics. The campaign’s main objective is to curtail undocumented marriages of minors.