Despite child marriage being illegal in Egypt, it is still all too common

Eighteen years into the 21st Century, the practice of forcing underage girls to marry continue in many parts of the world. In Egypt alone, about half a million children are born every year to underage mothers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 23 February 2018
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Despite child marriage being illegal in Egypt, it is still all too common

CAIRO: Nada Mohammed has been married for nearly two years and has two children. But there is no official record of her marriage, or of her children’s birth.
This is because Nada was married at just 15, three years under the age of legal marriage in her home country, Egypt. Going to school is compulsory in the country between the ages of six and 15.
Nada had not finished school and now never will. She is still only 16.
“My parents believe it is more important for me to be married and settled in my husband’s house than for me to have an education,” says Nada, who is from a small village near the city of Tanta, 120 km north of Cairo. As a girl, she had no right to object, she adds.
Her husband is 18 and works in construction. Before marrying Nada, he was made to sign a document declaring he owes her father a large sum of money. This is to deter him from deserting Nada, giving her some level or security, or money for her and her family if he does leave.
It was deemed necessary to do this as with no official marriage record when a bride is under age, there can be no comeback if her husband walks out before she is 18, or if he tries to blackmail her family by threatening to expose them for giving him false information about her age.
Further, as Nada’s marriage cannot be registered until she is 18, the birth of her one-year-old child and newborn cannot be registered either. Even when she is legally able to register her marriage, it could be difficult to register her children as it would expose her under-age marriage. And so her relatives have bribed registry officials to falsify Nada’s age on documents.
“Relatives and friends have intervened to help my family register my children in the civil registry until I am 18 years old and the marriage is documented,” she said.
Despite child marriage being illegal in Egypt, unfortunately it is still not uncommon. The Egyptian constitution states: “Any person under the age of 18 is considered a child.”
The law on under-age marriage is clear: “A marriage contract may not be registered for a person who has not attained the age of 18.”
Egypt is a signatory to the African Union’s Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which outlaws marriage to anyone under 18.
But even though it contravenes domestic and international law, marrying a minor is not a criminal offense in Egypt and so it continues to happen on a large scale.
According to a 2017 census by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 118,904 girls in Egypt were under 18 when they wed and 18,127 — 15 percent — were under 16.
The Ministry of Health says that 500,000 children are born every year to underage mothers.
In 2006, the International Population Council in Egypt interviewed girls and women who married young. It was found that 62 percent of the girls who married young did so because their parents had forced them to get married.
There is no sign of a change in the number of child marriages since then, and the driving factors now and then are the same: Poverty — marrying off a daughter means one less mouth to feed — and the fear of losing social status. A girl who loses her virginity before her wedding shames her whole family. The fear is that the longer a girl remains unwed, the higher the chance that she will have her purity compromised.
According to Dr. Iqbal Samalouti, formerly dean of the High Academy for Social Services, a branch of the Higher Education Ministry, 36 percent of the marriages in impoverished rural Egypt involved under 16s, and 16 to 20 percent of all babies born in the Arab world were born to adolescent mothers.
Since marrying a minor is not a recognized crime punishable by law, it is treated as fraud.
Legal experts say the bride’s father and the person officiating at such weddings should be fined and the marriage annulled.
They also demand that the law should clearly state that minors in the marriage are not at fault.
Mohamed Hamed Al-Gamal, a former judge, wants the offense of forcing or facilitating child marriage should carry a jail sentence of seven years to life as a deterrent.
“The marriage of minors is a big problem for the girl and for society as it leads to an increase in the number of births and the consequent crises in society,” he said.
In an official editorial, lawyer Amr Abdel Salam, deputy head of Al-Haq International Human Rights Organization, said the police should be proactive in pursuing offenders.
“A crime has been committed and that is a matter of national security,” he said.
In a speech last October, following the publication of the annual census, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi admitted he was shocked by the figures on the numbers of girls married at age 12.
“At this young age, we are putting too much responsibility on their shoulders,” said the president.
“How can a girl get married at 12? There are widows and divorcees who are 12 years old. We are cruel to our children.”
Nada, still a child in the eyes of the law, was allowed no say in her own marriage. But that does not mean she has no opinion on it.
“Early marriage before the legal age is not in the interest of any girl,” she says. “My advice is that girls should wait until they reach legal age so that they can take responsibility for the family and their children.”


Prince William on first official royal visit to Occupied Territories and Israel

On his first official visit to Israel and Palestine, Prince William is unlikely to talk about politics. Getty Images
Updated 23 June 2018
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Prince William on first official royal visit to Occupied Territories and Israel

  • The second-in-line to the British throne is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade

LONDON: Prince William will embark on the first official visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories by a member of the British royal family on Sunday.

But even with more than 120 Palestinians killed in protests in Gaza during recent weeks and controversy still surrounding the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, the second-in-line to the throne is not expected to talk politics.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), told Arab News that the four-day tour is likely to focus on making trade deals in preparation for Britain’s departure from the EU next year, rather than on addressing the moribund Middle East peace process.
“There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade,” he said.
The visit risks “normalizing” the abusive regime under which Palestinians live, he added.
“Of course Prince William has to go to both the Israeli and Palestinian sectors or there would have been outrage. But there is a risk of his visit making it appear more acceptable and normal to carry out abuses of international law like the blockade of Gaza,” Doyle said.
William begins his Middle Eastern tour on Sunday in Jordan, a long-time ally of Britain. On Tuesday he will move on to Jerusalem, where he will visit Yad Vashem, the official memorial to Holocaust victims, meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later attend a football event with a mixed Arab and Jewish team.
On Wednesday he will meet young activists, both Arab and Jewish, who are involved in education and social programs, and also cross into the Occupied Palestinian Territories to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah before attending an event focusing on Palestinian refugees.
He is due to deliver a speech at a reception hosted by the American consul in Jerusalem. However, protocol prevents him from making any remarks that might be deemed partisan. Doyle told Arab News this was a pity in view of how William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, championed justice for the oppressed.
“It is a pity that someone of his status, who clearly cares about his mother’s legacy, cannot give voice to real major concerns about the treatment of the Palestinians and the human rights abuses that are daily issues for them under Israeli control but which will be airbrushed out,” he said.
“Yes, he will see co-operative programs and Arabs and Jews playing football together, but the reality is that the Palestinian footballers can only travel to matches with Israeli permission.”
William was a surprise choice for the visit. Many expected the task to fall to his father, Prince Charles, who has more experience of countries which are politically extremely sensitive. But it is thought he was chosen because his youth chimes better with young Israelis working in hi-tech fields who he is scheduled to meet. Among Palestinians, his presence will barely register, said Doyle.
“I hope the language can be found for him to say something to his Israeli hosts, that his visit will be more than window-dressing, but the reality is it’s very unlikely. So the visit won’t register as important with Palestinians. They don’t want to be part of some tourist show or box-ticking exercise,” he said.