To Prevent It from Becoming Customary

Written by Zeinab Kheir

Lawyer / Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Association for Economic and Social Rights on the Issue of #ChildMarriage

This definition refers to both official marriage and unofficial unions before the age of 18. The problems resulting from this phenomenon are numerous ranging from legal, social and psychological issues. Article 31 of the Egyptian Child Law has created legal and social dilemmas by stating, “no marriage contract may be documented for those of both sexes who have not reached the age of eighteen full calendar years” meaning it is not permissible to document the marriage contract for anyone under the age of eighteen years. Thus, Article 31 prohibits “documentation” but not “marriage,” which has opened a back door for customary marriages that are socially tolerated and accepted with complicity linked to traditions and customs. This has become a tributary to problems such as proving paternity issues and citizenship acquisition, especially in cases of divorce or the father’s death before officially registering the marriage. Additionally, it deprives girls of their marital rights as outlined in the Personal Status Law and leads to various social problems, such as early divorce, extended reproductive life for women, high birth rates, and lack of women’s participation in the labour market.

A study on the response to rapid population growth in Egypt revealed that “one in six girls is married before turning eighteen.” This problem is exacerbated by poor economic conditions, especially in rural areas and among female-headed households. Moreover, the high return from marrying off young girls to non-Egyptians, which is classified as human trafficking, has led to the exploitation of girls and their trafficking, forming gangs of lawyers, marriage officiants, and heartless heads of families.

The main health and psychological effects of early marriage include miscarriages, repeated miscarriages, spinal deformities, obstructed labour, high maternal and infant mortality rates, and premature births. Early marriage also causes psychological issues such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety, along with disrupted sexual relationships between spouses. It deprives girls of education, widens the gender gap in education and employment opportunities, and increases gender discrimination indicators.

To reduce this phenomenon, efforts must be made on several fronts. Firstly, the Child Law should be amended to prohibit marriage (not just documentation) before the full age of 18. Penalties for marrying off underage girls should be increased, with violations by marriage officiants being referred to the Penal Code under charges of forgery of official documents. Additionally, mechanisms for networking among concerned parties, especially civil society organisations, should be strengthened to rehabilitate girls who were married early, particularly victims of human trafficking, socially, health-wise, and economically.

ذات صلة