Underage Girls’ Marriage in Egypt: Its Implications on Sustainable Development
Added on -2019-09-21
This paper analyzes the current situation of underage girl's marriage in poor and underprivileged areas of Egypt. It will highlight the root causes and effects of this phenomenon based on a literature review and my experience as a development practitioner for more than 12 years in Egypt, eight years of which was mainly focused on fighting violence against women and gender issues.
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Underage Girls’ Marriage in Egypt: Its Implications on Sustainable DevelopmentIntroduction In Egypt, child marriage is a widespread social phenomenon, which mainly affects girls living inpoorer rural areas, and is becoming more prevalent in urban areas, including Upper Egypt(United Nations, 2012). Seventeen percent of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday(United Nations, 2012). Wealthy men from Egypt, and the Arab region, including the Gulf,frequently travel to Egypt to purchase “temporary marriages and tourism marriages” withunderage Egyptian girls, including in some cases girls who are under the age of 14 years (TheProtection Project, 2011). These marriages are often facilitated by the girl’s parents and throughmarriage brokers, sheikhs, lawyers, community leaders and Ma’azoons (authorized marriage‘sheikhs’) who take bribes for registering marriages of underage girls (NCCM, 2012). In 2008, the Egyptian government issued a law to determine the legal age for marriage iseighteen, and to criminalize the marriage under this age. As a result, the government bansregistration of marriage between couples under this age (Nour, 2009). However, many familiesin rural areas accept unregistered marriage until the girls turns eighteen and many religiousleaders try to find leeway around the law for underage couples’ marriages. Some religiousleaders change the date of birth or use unofficial documents in the marriage certificate ( Nour,2009).Child marriage is common in poor and underprivileged areas including Assuit, Sohag, Fayoum,and areas with strong tribal systems such as New Village, and the Sinai Peninsula, wherehundreds of Bedouin tribes engage in this practice. Furthermore, child marriage can be found inbig cities such as Alexandria, Giza and including the country’s capital, Cairo. According to astudy conducted in rural communities of Egypt, 36 % of married women are married under theage of sixteen (UNICEF, 2005). In some districts such as El Hawamdia and Badrashen, around45 - 50% of young girls are forced by family members, community members, and religiousleaders to marry rich older men for money before their eighteenth birthday (NCCM, 2012).These marriages, which are close to prostitution, can last for 5 days, 2 days or even an hour(NCCM, 2012). As a result, these girls are abandoned and left either pregnant, taken by force toserve as maids in Egyptian homes and/or the Gulf in abusive settings where they aremalnourished and beaten or even sexually abused by other members of the husband’s family;abortions that may lead to death or hysterectomy; birth of children with no father and hence nonational identity nor birth certificate (United Nations, 2012).
According to a study conducted by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood(NCCM) on underage girls’ marriage in Egypt, the main reasons for this phenomena can besummarized as follows: poverty, widespread ignorance and high illiteracy rates among families;lack of knowledge of dangers and negative consequences of underage marriage; and lack ofsecuring protection for victims. Extreme poverty is a result of lack of good governance, lack ofother economic opportunities and high perception of corruption, which leads parents to arrangemarriage for their daughters to relieve themselves from financial burdens. In these contexts,marriage can literally mean one fewer mouth to feed. In addition, the girl’s family receives a‘bride price’ of money or livestock from the husband, so marriage also becomes a way ofbringing much needed resources into the familyIssues of underage girls’ marriage are not prioritized in the agenda of the agenda of the Egyptiangovernment, numerous of Non-governmental Organizations or human rights organizations,political parties, law enforcement organizations, media, and religious institutions (UnitedNations, 2012). As a result,there is lack of information regarding the gravity of such behavior,including its consequences for the girls who are involved. And since the content of other relatedmass media is monopolized by producers from the Gulf area, the media set by them plays a largepart in the negative dissemination of the phenomena of early marriages, girls working ashousemaids, and ridiculing and minimizing the extent by which these girls are subject to themost horrendous forms of violence and exploitation (United Nations, 2012).In light of the above, female victims in rural areas face many obstacles in their access to services,including health services such as proper clinical care or even hospital care when required(NCCM, 2012). Additionally, these girls often have no access to important resources, such aslegal assistance, vocational training, financial assistance (e.g. micro and small loans for self-employment, postpaid sales opportunities, working from home opportunities, etc.), otheremployment opportunities, and reading and writing and informal education outlets which mighthelp to empower them or improve their economic and social situation (NCCM, 2012).In this context, this paper will analyze the current situation of underage girl's marriage in poorand underprivileged areas of Egypt. It will highlight the root causes and effects of thisphenomenon based on a literature review and my experience as a development practitioner formore than 12 years in Egypt, eight years of which was mainly focused on fighting violenceagainst women and gender issues. The paper will criticize and tackle the absence ofgovernmental and non-governmental policies regarding underage girls’ marriage, the povertyplague, and the traditional-social and cultural norms in Egypt. In addition, it will demonstrate theconsequences of this issue and propose recommendations to reduce the underage girl’s marriagephenomenonThe marriage of underage girls in Egypt or Middle East for that matter, is a widespread socialtradition, particularly in the rural areas. In Egypt, one in seven girls gets married before hereighteenth birthday. The families of such girls may have a notion that it is in the best interest oftheir daughters. But in the process, they fail to realize that they are violating their daughters’human rights. Egypt being the most populous Arab country also has the distinction of largest
number of child brides in the region. As far as legal system of Egypt is concerned, Egyptian girlsand women are conferred with very few rights regarding marriage and, therefore, are left withlimited protection ("Marriage. Validity. Marriage below the Age of Consent", 1927). The lawsare also not enough to prohibit domestic violence or espousal abuse. The Egyptian Personal Law,which is also based on Shari’ah governs the institution of marriage in Egypt. This makes familiesunable to resist these laws let alone their daughters. Moreover, wealthy Saudi businessmen havemade the situation worse, who regularly travel to Egypt to purchase young Egyptian brides. Themore concerning aspect of the underage marriage in Egypt is that there is a direct link betweenchild marriage and physical abuse. There are as many as 30 percent of young married womenwho fall victim to violence by their husbands and over 40 percent of them have reported beingbeaten up during pregnancy (Korson & Esposito, 1983). However, Egypt has also taken positivesteps such as it has lodged a reservation against child marriage in African Charter. Also, in 2008,the age of consent was raised to 18 by an amendment to Egypt’s child protection laws.Research Question – What are the challenges for the underage married girls in Egypt andhow to address this issue of underage girls’ marriage in the country?Sources and MethodsThe following sources helped me to collect the data for making report.A recent report of United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), Population and DevelopmentBranch and Sexual and Reproductive Health Branch, Technical Division. UNFPA, 2012. Marrying too Young: End Child MarriageUNICEF, 2014. State of the World's Children 2015: Reimagine the future. Statistical table 9:Child protection.UNICEF, 2014. Ending child marriage: Progress and prospects.UNICEF Data and Analytics Section, Division of Policy and Research.UNICEF,State of the World’s Children, 2016United States Agency for International Development (USAID)Recent reports of International Organization of Migration (IOM)Population Council,The Ishraq Project in Upper Egypt,2007Population Council,Survey of Young People in Egypt,2010EgyptDemographic Health Survey,2014USAID,Trafficking in Persons Report,2015
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