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The Rise of Child Mar­riage in Egypt calls for Glob­al Con­cern

Pic­ture for illus­tra­tive pur­pos­es

Cairo: Two school chil­dren this week cel­e­brat­ed their engage­ment in Egypt’s Delta province, the lat­est in a series of under­age union blamed for the rapid pop­u­la­tion growth in the coun­try.

A video show­ing Fares, 15, and his 14-year-old bride Nada, exchang­ing the engage­ment rings sur­round­ed by jubi­lant fam­i­ly mem­bers and rel­a­tives trig­gered a media out­cry in Egypt and accu­sa­tions of child abuse. Mar­riage age lim­it in Egypt is set at 18 years and above.

In reac­tion to the uproar, Fares’s moth­er defend­ed the act.

We did noth­ing wrong,” she told pri­vate tele­vi­sion sta­tion DMC.

The fam­i­lies of Fares and Nada are rel­a­tives. We want­ed just to empha­sise the idea that they will mar­ry each oth­er in the future. There­fore, we decid­ed to hold an engage­ment where he offered the gold gift to his [would-be] bride,” the woman added, refer­ring to an Egypt­ian engage­ment tra­di­tion.

Fares and Nada

Both love each oth­er. There­fore, we decid­ed to make the issue offi­cial. If I saw my son unwor­thy of respon­si­bil­i­ty, I wouldn’t have agreed to the engage­ment. He may look young, but he is broad-mind­ed.”

The moth­er said the two chil­dren will com­plete their edu­ca­tion and will only wed when they turn 18.

She crit­i­cised what she called “exces­sive cov­er­age” of the event. “There are more impor­tant things in Egypt than this. This is nor­mal in our town where chil­dren at the age of Fares and younger engaged to girls.”

The inci­dent unleashed anger and deri­sion on social media.

How can two chil­dren realise respon­si­bil­i­ties of mar­riage?” said a man named Hama­da in a tweet.

The prob­lem [of under­age mar­riage] is get­ting seri­ous espe­cial­ly in areas far from the cap­i­tal,” com­ment­ed anoth­er.

In a sar­cas­tic post, a man named Ahmad Salah said: “For sure, they gave away Max Fruit, choco­late bars and corn­flakes at this engage­ment par­ty!”

Egyp­tians, who can­not afford the high cost of mar­riage, chipped in.

It is said that the child bought jew­ellery worth 32,000 pounds [Dh6,666] and pre­sent­ed it as a gift to his child fiancee. Damn our bad luck!” tweet­ed a man, who said he is aged 33 and unmar­ried yet.

The state Nation­al Coun­cil for Child­hood and Moth­er­hood said its instruct­ed its branch in Kafr Al Shaikh, around 140km north of Cairo, to con­tact fam­i­lies of the two chil­dren and make them aware of per­ils of ear­ly mar­riage.

The council’s sec­re­tary gen­er­al Aza Al Ash­mawi said that the two fam­i­lies were com­mit­ted to avoid con­duct­ing both children’s mar­riage before the legal age.

The Egypt­ian par­lia­ment is debat­ing a draft bill to tough­en penal­ties against under­age mar­riage.

The draft sug­gests jail terms rang­ing from five to ten years and a max­i­mum fine of 100,000 Egypt­ian pounds. Accord­ing to cur­rent Egypt­ian law, involve­ment in under­age mar­riages is pun­ish­able by up to four years in prison.

Egypt’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion stands at 106 mil­lion, includ­ing nine mil­lion liv­ing abroad with an annu­al birth rate of 2.5 mil­lion babies.

Rur­al tra­di­tions, backed by con­ser­v­a­tive cler­ics, rec­om­mend minors’ mar­riage, alleged­ly to head off sex­u­al promis­cu­ity, and also to have chil­dren ear­ly in mar­ried life.

In their attempt to cir­cum­vent the 18-year-age lim­it, some fam­i­lies infor­mal­ly mar­ry off their minor girls with help of local cler­ics.

The fam­i­ly waits until the girl turns 18 in order to offi­cial­ly reg­is­ter the mar­riage, a step nec­es­sary to pre­serve her legal rights and those of her chil­dren, includ­ing those relat­ed to edu­ca­tion and health care.

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