There have been speculations in Egypt regarding the passing of new marriage laws; laws that particularly deal with the minimum age for marriage for girls. Currently the minimum age for marriage in Egypt is eighteen, for both girls and boys. This law is an amendment of a previous law, which legally allowed girls to get married at sixteen. These speculations however revolve around child marriages, thereby allowing girls as young as nine-years-old to get married. There, however, haven’t been any confirmations regarding this matter. On the other hand in 2001 Egypt ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which states that it is prohibited for any party (boy or girl) below the age of eighteen to get married or betrothed. Unfortunately, child marriage continues to be a problem in Egypt for many years, therefore legalizing this phenomenon would therefore be catastrophic. This issue can be discussed from various different perspectives, in order to get an overall view of the problem.
Some advocates of this phenomenon rely heavily on religion; by referring back to Prophet Muhammad’s marriage of Aisha, who was at the time nine. But this notion can be falsified, giving more than one reason. First there is no proof that Aisha was nine at the time of the marriage, some scholars believe her age to have been between nine and nineteen. Therefore if she was in fact nineteen she was mature enough to consent to the marriage. Second in Arabia, during the seventh-century, adulthood was defined by puberty rather than law, making such an affair quite common during that time. Third, which is clearly stated in the Qur’an, is that marriage must be between two consenting adults. Therefore according to the religious text, marriage without consent, which is certainly the case when one of the parties is not even mature enough to give their consent, is invalid and void.
However the more common perspective for such an imbalanced unity between two people is purely economic. The parents of the bride-to-be receive a respectable dowry, which becomes the focal point of the marriage process, in exchange for their daughter. Therefore debasing the entire marriage process to nothing more than a business transaction, where the girl is nothing more than a product. Results of a joint study between the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF show another form of child marriage practiced in Egypt, one which is closer to prostitution than marriage. Where young, usually village girls, marry wealthy men from Arab Gulf countries for a short period of time, usually the summer, in exchange for an agreed upon amount of money. In this case the marriage constitutes a legal form of prostitution. However there is no consent on the girl’s part, especially since some of the documents needed for the marriage, for example the birth certificates, are forged for the purpose of this union.
Girls who are married before the age of eighteen are forced into such a marriage, which in itself has negative effect on the girl’s psychological wellbeing. However the severity of the problem becomes clearer, when looking closer at the marriage itself. Victims of child marriage are subjects to sexual violence, due to forced intercourse by the much older spouse, domestic violence and early child birth. Often girls who are pregnant at a very young age either die during the pregnancy or during child-birth. These girls also have a higher chance of being affected by HIV/AIDS or other sexual transmitted diseases. Due to the huge age gap between the spouses these girls are unable to negotiate with their husbands on issues such as safe sex or even ask for a divorce, when it becomes too much for them to handle. Ultimately they become trapped in a forced, abusive, uneven marriage.
In addition young girls, who are forced into such an affair, are forced to quit their education. By doing so they are not given the chance to develop themselves or get involved in the professional arena. Thereby excluding nearly half the workforce at an early age, this becomes a key aspect as to why Egyptian economy is continuing to deteriorate. Child marriage induces domestic violence, rape, psychological trauma and prohibits young girls from, not only being productive members of society, but from being healthy human beings. Passing such laws will therefore not only affect a marginalized community in the Egyptian society, but the entire society as a whole.
*First published in AUC Times