COVID-19 sparks pandemic of underage marriage in Jordan

COVID-19 sparks pandemic of underage marriage in Jordan
A young actress plays the role of a girl forced to marry an older man during an event organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage. (AFP)
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Updated 12 August 2021

COVID-19 sparks pandemic of underage marriage in Jordan

COVID-19 sparks pandemic of underage marriage in Jordan
  • Sharia courts grant nearly 8,000 marriages in 2020 involving girls under the age of 18
  • Campaigners call for a change in the law that allows exceptions for adolescents

AMMAN: Underage marriage in Jordan surged last year during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic due to increased financial hardship among poorer families, human rights groups warned.

The number of underage marriages registered in Sharia courts jumped by almost 12 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to new data from the Chief Islamic Justice Department.

While Jordanian civil law puts the legal age for marriage at 18 for both men and women, it also allows for exceptions for those aged 15 and above if a judge deems it in their best interests.

The sharp increase has led to calls for a change in the law and, in the meantime, a push to pressure judges to reduce the number of marriages granted.

Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women Salma Al-Nims blamed the pandemic and the resulting economic burdens, and school dropout rates for the “skyrocketing” increase in underage marriages.   

“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the commission has been warning that distance learning would deepen social problems and would increase child labor and school dropouts and, consequently, underage marriage,” Al-Nims told Arab News.

“Only yesterday, I heard that a 15-year-old girl got married and when I inquired about the reason, I learned that her family said ‘yes’ because the groom was rich. How come the judge approved it?”

Of the 67,389 marriage contracts registered in 2020 in Sharia courts, 7,964 were for girls under the age of 18. This compares to 7,224 in 2019 after the numbers had decreased from a peak of more than 10,000 in 2016.

Even more worrying is that the 2020 figure includes more than 2,000 marriages involving girls aged 15. Just 194 of the marriages included boys aged under 18.

Lawyer and human rights activist Saddam Abu Azzam described the increase in child marriage cases as “horrific” and “stomach-turning.”

“Even if it was a single case, that figure is still high,” Abu Azzam, director of the Jordanian parliament’s research center, said.   

He argued that approving marriages for girls and boys under 18 years of age is a “violation” of basic human rights, attributing the increase to Jordanian laws and a lobby of Sharia judges obstructing efforts to completely ban the marriage of adolescents.

“Those judges, unfortunately, believe that child marriage is Islamic and is an answer to several economic and social problems,” he said.

Abu Azzam called for abolishing the section of the law that says exceptions can be made for some under the age of 18.

“The problem is that Sharia judges misuse the law and expand the exceptions granted to them and the proof for that is in the increasing cases of child marriage,” he said.

Abu Azzam said that while marriage is viewed as bringing stability, prosperity, and social cohesion, the highest divorce rates in the Arab region are registered in Jordan and most are among couples less than 28 years of age. More than 90 percent of child marriages end in divorce, Abu Azzam said.

The Solidarity Is Global Institute in Jordan (SIGI), a charity that published a report on the figures, has also called for a law change.

In 2018, the group launched a national campaign to eradicate child marriage named “Nujoud” after a 10-year-old Yemeni girl who was physically and sexually abused during a two-month marriage allowed by the courts.

The Chief Islamic Justice Department said child marriage is more prominent among Jordan’s Syrian refugee population, who are “increasingly relying on child marriage as a coping mechanism.”

The department said that in 2018, one in three of the registered marriages of Syrians in Jordan involved someone under the age of 18.

According to UNICEF, family disintegration, poverty, and lack of education are considered to be some of the key factors behind an increase in the rate of child marriage among refugees.

The increase in Jordan is mirrored globally with 37,000 girls under the age of 18 married every day. According to the UN, one in three girls in the developing world are married before they reach 18 and one in nine before 15.

“If present trends continue, more than 140 million girls will be married before the age of 18 in the next decade,” the UN said in a 2019 report.

In Jordan, campaigners are at least pushing for judges to make a difference between biological maturity and social and economic maturity when they grant permission for marriages.

“Many Islamic schools define ‘competence’ as social and economic maturity rather than biological maturity,” Al-Nims said.

“Instead of limiting the exceptions granted to them, judges are unfortunately expanding them. The problem in Jordan is the fact that there is really a lack of institutionalized efforts to completely end child marriage.”


In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’
Updated 10 sec ago

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’

In South Sudan, flooding called ‘worst thing in my lifetime’
  • This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan
  • The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May
MALUALKON, South Sudan: He feels like a man who has drowned.
The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass. His field of sorghum, which fed his family, is under water. Surrounding mud dykes have collapsed.
Other people have fled. Only Yel Aguer Deng’s family and a few neighbors remain.
This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperiling livelihoods of many of the 11 million people in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now climate change, which the United Nations has blamed on the flooding, is impossible to ignore.
As he empties a fishing net, Daniel Deng, a 50-year-old father of seven, recalls a life of being forced to flee again and again because of insecurity. “But this one event (the flood) is too much,” he said. “It is the worst thing that happened in my lifetime.”
The UN says the flooding has affected almost a half-million people across South Sudan since May. Here in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, the Lol river has burst its banks.
This state is usually spared from extreme flooding that plagues the South Sudan states of Jonglei and Unity that border the White Nile and the Sudd marshlands. But now, houses and crops have been swamped.
A new report this week coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization warned of increasing such climate shocks to come across much of Africa, the continent that contributes the least to global warming but will suffer from it most.
In these rural South Sudan communities, shelters of braided grass put up a fragile resistance in a land of seemingly endless water.
In Langic village, Ajou Bol Yel’s family of seven hosted nine neighbors who had lost their homes. The elders sleep outside on beds protected by mosquito nets, while the children share the floor.
In Majak Awar, some 100 families have been displaced twice, in June when homes were flooded and again in August when their shelters were ruined, too.
“I want to leave for Sudan,” whispered Nyibol Arop, a 27-year-old mother of five, as she boiled her morning tea just steps away from the stagnant water that threatens her current shelter.
It is hard to see a stable future when constantly on the move, a lesson learned during the civil war that displaced millions of people before a peace agreement in 2018.
“Floods are not constant. Some people will stay, and some will go,” said Thomas Mapol, a 45-year-old father of nine, as he showed off the destroyed houses of his village near Majak Awar. “But me, I cannot move anywhere. There is no other place that I know.”

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai
Updated 22 October 2021

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Ancient and modern fuse together at the Indian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai
  • Pavilion is one of the largest at the event and could remain as a permanent structure once the expo is over
  • The pavilion’s launch coincides with year-long celebrations marking 75 years of Indian independence 

DUBAI: Stepping into India’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is like being instantly transported from the skyscraper-dominated skyline of the Middle East’s commercial capital to the hustle and bustle of South Asia.

The pavilion, located in Al-Forsan Crescent in the expo’s Opportunity District, is one of the largest at the event. Designed by CP Kukreja Architects in Delhi, it features an innovative kinetic facade made up of 600 individual blocks in assorted hues of brown and beige — not entirely unlike the desert landscape outside — arranged in a mosaic of panels, each of which rotates on an axis.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The design is intended to represent India’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move;” a country rooted in its rich heritage but also avant-garde and innovative in its approach to technological and economic advances.

The pavilion is also a nod to the nation’s fight against COVID-19 and the various reforms implemented by the government to prepare for what is hoped will be a period of high and accelerated growth as India strives to become a $5 trillion economy.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

“The pavilion takes visitors through the numerous phases of development and the unparalleled growth trajectory that India has experienced in all sectors, ranging from health and wellness, climate change, biodiversity, food agriculture to accomplishments in space,” Aman Puri, the pavilion’s commissioner general and the consul general of India in Dubai, told Arab News.

“We have a wide assortment of festivals and celebrations to offer at the pavilion, which provide our visitors with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get the … feel of the diverse Indian culture.”

Visitors are greeted warmly as they arrive at the state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site and showcases the nation’s cultural treasures and technological marvels.

Combining both its heritage and its ambition, the Indian pavilion features yoga demonstrations alongside displays on its space program. (Credit: Supplied)

As they move along a winding pathway they pass by a live yoga display in an area surrounded by greenery, a demonstration of Ayurveda, India’s ancient art of wellness, and a sharply contrasting area dedicated to India’s space program.

Visitors then move up through several levels that offer insights into various aspects of Indian culture, heritage and modern-day achievements. Massive floor-to-ceiling LED screens show images of Indian dancers and traditional ceremonies, and showcase the nation’s successes in the fields of robotics, energy, e-commerce, healthcare, cryptocurrency and blockchain.

A number of conference rooms and meeting spaces will be used to host talks and networking events in the coming months in an attempt to encourage the forging of new international business relationships with India.

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

“The expo is an important occasion to exhibit and invite the world to participate in India’s economic growth by utilizing the existing Indian talent base, creating additional employment opportunities, and empowering the secondary and tertiary sectors,” said Puri.

“The plethora of global discussions, business and investment summits will focus on creating synergies and providing opportunities to explore and accelerate trade partnerships.”

Prior to the pandemic, bilateral trade between India and the UAE was worth $60 billion. As business begins to return to normal, the governments of both countries hope to facilitate investments totaling $75 billion in the coming years.

INNUMBERS

8.5 million - Population of overseas Indians in the Gulf states (2018).

(Source: GoI, Ministry of External Affairs)

Noting that India is “a country of start-up unicorns, and with an ecosystem of more than 50,000 recognized start-ups,” Puri said that “the Innovation Hub at the India pavilion will host several leading startups from India. Expo 2020 Dubai will be an excellent platform for these startups to engage with the global market.”

As it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, India has set its sights on becoming a high-tech, $5 trillion economy. (Credit: Supplied)

Among the events the pavilion will host is a World Majlis, which includes a program of talks including: Lessons from Space, on Oct. 19; Cities on the Move, on Nov. 2; and Off the Beaten Path, on Jan. 13.

For those interested in sampling some of India’s heritage, arts and crafts, and cultural treasures, the pavilion features a retail area with shops selling gemstones, textiles and pashminas from Jodhpur, Rajasthan and Jaipur.

And of course there is also a food court offering a wide range of Indian delicacies, along with a fine-dining restaurant, managed by Taj Hotels, where visitors can feast on a selection of the country’s rich culinary offerings.

The pavilion will also offer a packed schedule of indoor and outdoor performances of traditional Indian music and dance. In addition, visitors are invited to take part in festivities such as Diwali, the festival of light, and Holi, the festival of color.

 India’s state-of-the-art pavilion, which occupies a 1.2 acre site, showcases the nation’s cultural treasures alongside its technological marvels. (Credit: Supplied)

There are plans for the pavilion to remain as a permanent space for cultural and business exchange after the expo concludes, a testament to the long-standing relationship between the UAE and India.

About 2.75 million Indian nationals live in the UAE, representing 27 percent of the Gulf state’s population of about 10 million. The majority work in the service industry, which was badly hit by the precautionary lockdown measures during the pandemic. As a result, many Indian expats were forced to return home.

India’s participation at the expo coincides with the Indian government’s Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, also known as [email protected], a year-long celebration of the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule.

The Indian pavilion’s design represents the country’s dynamism and forward-thinking vision, echoing the theme of an “India on the move.” (Credit: Supplied)

The Indian consulate has launched a number of special events, in addition to those taking place at the expo, to mark the anniversary, including competitions, documentary screenings and art exhibitions. The consulate is also reportedly planning a joint celebration to coincide with the 50th UAE National Day on Dec. 2, in celebration of the bond of friendship between the nations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the 35th World Expo. The previous one was in Milan in 2015, and the next is scheduled to take place in 2025 in the Japanese city of Osaka, which also hosted the 1970 World Expo.

People attend the opening ceremony of the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on September 30, 2021. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo)

The event dates back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London, the first of what came to be called World Expos. In recent years have been staged every five years in a host city for a period ranging from three to six months.

Since 2013, when Dubai impressed a selection panel in Paris with its bid for the 2020 event, the expo has been one the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events in the UAE.

Organizers say the expo, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic and finally got underway on Oct. 1 this year, provides a showcase for more than 200 participating entities, including 192 countries, and features 60 events. About 25 million visitors are expected before it closes in April.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity
Updated 22 October 2021

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

In Iraqi Kurdish city, women gain power without parity

HALABJA: In the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq, municipal director Kwestan Faraj recalls the day when being a woman saved her life.
Though equality may be a distant reality for many women in Iraq, in Halabja women have reached top levels of local government.
Mayor, university dean, director of the veterinary department, and health spokesperson are some of the senior posts held by women in the city of around 115,000 inhabitants.
It marks something of a departure for Iraqi Kurdistan, where public affairs have long been dominated by a handful of men. Tradition and conservative values have meant that women face routine discrimination and are largely confined to the private sphere.
“When you are a woman, climbing the ranks comes with a lot of sacrifices,” Faraj, 55, said.
A former deputy head of the municipality for 15 years, Faraj launched her political career many years earlier when as a student she handed out leaflets against Saddam Hussein’s regime, which carried out an infamous chemical attack on the city shortly before the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
She recalled one day when an armed man arrived demanding that she sign dubious paperwork. She refused.
“I thought he would pull out his gun and shoot,” she said.
“He got up and told me: ‘If you weren’t a woman, I know what I would have done’.”
She said that in her city the drive for gender equality was largely led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of two historical parties in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Yet some residents complain that the advances are largely cosmetic and aimed at masking the shortcomings of public services.
A junior partner in the Kurdistan regional government in Irbil, the PUK holds the post of speaker in the regional parliament, which it also awarded to a woman, Rewaz Faiq.
The party “believes in equality between men and women in all domains,” Faraj said.
“This has allowed us to achieve gender balance in administrative posts in Halabja,” said the head of the municipality, who has held the post since 2016.
Halabja prides itself on having had a woman mayor, Adela Khanum, in the first decades of the 20th century. Now it has another, Nuxsha Nasih.
It also has Kurdistan’s first female university dean, Mahabad Kamil Abdullah. “The Islamist parties were among the first to congratulate me when I became the president of Halabja University,” she said.
But it is by no means representative of the situation of women in Kurdistan as a whole. A 2018 UN report found that women in the workforce represent barely 15 percent of the women of working age. About three quarters of those work in the public sector.
In Iraq’s Oct. 10 parliamentary election, more than 90 women were elected according to preliminary results, exceeding the minimum 83-seat quota established for women in the 329-seat chamber.
Though the Kurdistan region has cultivated an image of relative stability and tolerance, women’s rights activists say key issues like forced marriage and female genital mutilation have gone unaddressed.
“It is not enough to have women in high posts. There need to be more women in the lower ranks,” said Gulistan Ahmed, who heads the governmental commission for human rights in Halabja.
Many residents are more preoccupied with the failings of public services than with seeking gender equality.
“There have been no notable changes in the city under their mandate, whether at the level of public services or with the launch of new projects,” complained Wshyar Abdulkarim, a 45-year-old spice merchant.
Female market trader Mujda Ahmed said having women in top jobs had yet to lead to an improvement in services for women.
“I have worked in the market for six years and not a single person has built public toilets for women,” she said.
“I have the impression that they are being used by their parties, which simply want to improve their image on the issue of equality, nothing more.”


Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence
Updated 21 October 2021

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence

Lebanon Christian leader summoned over deadly violence
  • Hezbollah and Amal accused Lebanese Forces, which supports the probe, of being responsible for sniper fire against the protesters that ignited street clashes
  • A representative of the military court had "instructed the army intelligence to summon Geagea and take his statement based on information provided by arrested LF members"

BEIRUT: The head of the Lebanese Forces Christian group, Samir Geagea, has been summoned for questioning over deadly violence that erupted at a Shiite rally last week, a judicial official said Thursday.
Seven people were killed in Beirut on October 14 during a protest organized by the Shiite movements Amal and Hezbollah to demand Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating Beirut’s powerful port blast, be removed.
Hezbollah and Amal accused the Lebanese Forces (LF), which supports the probe, of being responsible for sniper fire against the protesters that ignited street clashes.
The Christian group denies the charges.
Fadi Akiki, a representative of the military court, had “instructed the army intelligence to summon Geagea and take his statement based on information provided by arrested LF members,” the judicial official said.
Twenty-six people were arrested after the violence in the heart of the Lebanese capital, most of them LF members, the official said on Thursday.
The exact circumstances of the violence remain unclear.
Geagea has denied responsiblity for the deaths, saying that residents of Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh had “defended” themselves against “Hezbollah militiamen who tried to enter their homes.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that his Iran-backed movement had 100,000 armed fighters at its disposal, and warned it is against sparking any “civil war.”
On Thursday, Geagea told the Lebanon’s MTV channel he was not aware of the summons.
“I am ready to appear before the judge, on one condition: that Hassan Nasrallah does it before me,” he said.
Nasrallah has been in hiding since the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Tensions flared after Bitar summoned two Amal former ministers for questioning as part of the investigation into last year’s devastating Beirut port blast.
The explosion of a huge stockpile of poorly stored fertilizer on the dockside on August 4, 2020 killed more than 210 people, wounded thousands and ravaged half the capital.


Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway
Updated 21 October 2021

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway

Woman dies in crash, run over repeatedly on pitch-black Lebanese highway
  • Banque du Liban holds meeting with IMF executive director 
  • Hezbollah and Amal Movement boycotting Cabinet sessions 

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Thursday woke to news of one of the bleakest moments brought on by the country’s energy crisis, after the smashed-up body of a female Ethiopian worker was found on Al-Zahrani Highway, which links Beirut to the south.

According to a security source, she was killed in a crash during the night but was run over again and again as drivers could not see her body in the dark.

People took to the streets for the second day in a row to protest their ever-worsening conditions, especially the uncontrolled rise in fuel prices and its repercussions on everyday life.

On Thursday, Banque du Liban said a meeting was held with the executive director at the International Monetary Fund during which the government's priorities were discussed, especially with regard to a “comprehensive economic project.”

The IMF’s Mahmoud Mohieldin described his visit to Lebanon and his meetings with officials as “successful, with a positive outcome, compared to previous visits.”

He said: “I saw a better consensus over priorities and a common discourse between the parties regarding the economic crisis and its social effects. The meetings reflect the four priorities that constitute the pillars of future dealings with the IMF, and a framework for the negotiations that the government will carry out with the BDL in the coming weeks. It is important to consider a timeframe.”

Mohieldin stressed the importance of unifying the exchange rate which was, he added, usually a product of comprehensive economic reforms that were being initiated.

“A law to control remittances from inside and outside the country needs to be adopted, along with structural reforms and emphasis on the issue of governance, transparency and sector-related priorities, determined by the state.

“If we succeed in developing a good framework to present to the IMF in the coming weeks, it can then be presented to the IMF’s board of directors, and the form of the program and the financing framework associated with it will thus be determined, in a way that will reinstate confidence in the Lebanese economy and restore financial flows,” he said.

But the Cabinet has yet to convene as the ministers of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are refusing to attend a session until Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into last year’s Beirut Port blast, is dismissed and until the deadly street violence from earlier this month is investigated.

The government is also supposed to decide on the ration card for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable, coinciding with the lifting of fuel subsidies.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday contacted several officials following statements from the Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada, who is affiliated with the Shiite parties Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, about Shiite ministers resigning from the government.

Mikati also met President Michel Aoun. 

According to a ministerial source, their meeting revolved around “finding a formula” that would lead to the resumption of government work “under the pressure of stressful living conditions.”

"All parties realize that the uncontrolled rise in prices will implode in the street, and the government bears the responsibility to implement rescue measures and secure the required international assistance,” the source added.

Mikati chaired a committee meeting to address the repercussions of the financial crisis on public utilities. 

The committee discussed existing obligations and an agreement to provide a financial, contractual and legal equation that allowed securing public utility services and the continuation or termination of business in a balanced and fair manner that took into account urgent factors.

The majority of contractors that signed with the Lebanese state have stopped their work, including waste removal companies, because the cost was calculated on the official exchange rate of LBP1,507 to the US dollar. But the Lebanese national currency trades at around LBP20,000 to the dollar on the black market.

During the meeting, it was decided that the first Cabinet session would announce measures that would respond to the living crisis, specifically raising the daily transport allowance, and approving a monthly advance as social assistance for workers in public institutions, government hospitals and schools, within an integrated project.