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.”


Six loyalist fighters killed in Syria arms depot blast: monitor

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Updated 20 October 2021

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BEIRUT: Six members of a pro-government militia were killed Wednesday in an arms depot blast in the central Syrian province of Hama, a war monitor reported.
Seven other members of the National Defense Forces militia were wounded in the blast, the cause of which remains largely unclear, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.


Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

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Updated 20 October 2021

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents
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KUWAIT: Kuwait’s ruling emir on Wednesday paved the way for an amnesty pardoning dissidents that has been a major condition of opposition lawmakers to end a months-long standoff with the appointed government that has paralyzed legislative work.
Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah tasked the parliament speaker, the prime minister and the head of the supreme judicial council to recommend the conditions and terms of the amnesty ahead of it being issued by decree, Sheikh Nawaf’s office said.


Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians

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Updated 20 October 2021

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AMMAN: At least 11 civilians died on Wednesday in a Syrian army shelling of residential areas of rebel-held Ariha city, witnesses and rescue workers said.
The shelling from Syrian army outposts, which came shortly after a roadside bomb killed at least 13 military personnel in Damascus, fell on residential areas in the city in Idlib province.
Among the casualties were several school children, witnesses and medical workers in the opposition enclave said.


13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media

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Updated 20 October 2021

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DAMASCUS: A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed at least 13 people Wednesday in the bloodiest such attack in years, the SANA state news agency reported.
“A terrorist bombing using two explosive devices targeted a passing bus” on a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting an initial casualty toll of 13 dead and three wounded.
Images released by SANA showed a burning bus and what it said was a bomb squad defusing a third device that had been planted in the same area.
Damascus had been mostly spared such violence in recent years, especially since troops and allied militia retook the last significant rebel bastion near the capital in 2018.


Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
Updated 20 October 2021

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
  • Civil society members stage a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show ‘solidarity with the judiciary’

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 port explosion, resumed investigations on Tuesday after being notified by the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation of its second decision to reject the request submitted by the defendant in the case of MP Ali Hassan Khalil.

Normal service resumed at the Justice Palace in Beirut after a long vacation. The Lebanese army guarding roads leading to the palace and Ain Remaneh, which was the arena of bloody events on Thursday, over protests to dismiss Bitar from the case. The repercussions of these events have affected the political scene, its parties and the people.

Civil society activists under the auspices of the “Lebanese Opposition Front” staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show “solidarity with the Judiciary carrying out its national duties and support for Judge Bitar to face the threats.”

Speaking on behalf of the protestors, activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said: “A free and sovereign state cannot exist without a legitimate authority, judiciary and justice.”

Abdel Samad urged “the defendants to appear before Judge Bitar, because the innocent normally show up and defend themselves instead of resorting to threats.”

“We have reached this low point today because of a ruling elite allied with the Hezbollah statelet, protected by illegal arms.

“They want to dismiss Judge Bitar in all arbitrary ways and threats because he has come so close to the truth after they managed to dismiss the former judge, hiding behind their immunities because they know they are involved in the crime.”

Abdel Samad claimed that “those making threats are involved in the crime.”

Regarding the Tayouneh events that took place last week, he said: “They took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully, as they claimed, but they almost got us into a new civil war as a result of the hatred and conspiracies against Lebanon.”

Lawyer May Al-Khansa, known for her affiliation with Hezbollah, submitted a report at the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation against the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, Judge Bitar and “all those who appear in the investigation to be involved, accomplices or partners in crimes of terrorism and terrorism funding, undermining the state’s authority, inciting a strife, and other crimes against the law and the Lebanese Constitution.”

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday night waged an unprecedented campaign of accusations and incitement against the Lebanese Forces party and its leader.    

Nasrallah accused them of being “the biggest threat for the presence of Christians in Lebanon” and said they were “forming alliances with Daesh.”

In a clear threat to Geagea and his party, Nasrallah bragged in his speech of having “100,000 trained fighters,” calling on Christians to “stand against this murderer.”

Nasrallah accused Bitar of “carrying out a foreign agenda targeting Hezbollah in the Beirut port crime” and of “being supported by embassies and authorities, turning him into a dictator.”

During the parliamentary session on Tuesday, no contact was made between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces. However, a handshake was spotted between the Lebanese Forces’ MP Pierre Abu Assi and the Amal Movement’s MP Hani Kobeissi.

Minister of Culture Mohammed Mortada, who represents Hezbollah, said “Hezbollah’s ministers will attend the ministerial session if Prime Minister Najib Mikati calls for one, but the justice minister and the judiciary must find a solution to the issue of lack of trust in Bitar.”

Several calls were made on Monday night between different political groups to prevent escalation and calm the situation.

Efforts are being made to reach a settlement that allows Bitar to keep his position and for defendants in the Beirut port case — who are former ministers and MPs — to be referred to the Supreme Judicial Council for prosecution.

Elsewhere, parliament dropped the proposal of a women’s quota ensuring female participation through  a minimum of 26 seats.

It passed a move to allow expats to vote for the 128 MPs and dropped the decision to allocate six additional seats representing them.

The parliament’s decision angered Gebran Bassil, who heads the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc. Following the parliamentary session, Bassil referred to “a political game in the matter of expats’ right to vote, which we will not allow to happen.”