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.”


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.