Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1357, (17 - 23 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

‘A step backwards’

Reem Leila reports on the National Council of Women’s opposition to proposals to lower the legal age for woman to marry

proposals to lower the legal age for woman to marry
proposals to lower the legal age for woman to marry

A draft law lowering the marriageable age for women from 18 to 16 has been proposed by MP Ahmed Sameh.

Sameh says his proposals will help legalise the status of girls who get married and have children before they are 18.

"It is a fact that girls in rural areas get married young and give birth to children. They are then caught in a legal bind. They cannot apply for a birth certificate for the children because they do not have a marriage certificate," said Sameh.

He stresses that the proposed legislation does not force girls to marry young but seeks only to legalise the situation.

"Rural girls get married with the approval of their parents and the maazoun (legal registrar) keeps the marriage certificate until the girl turns 18 when it can be registered and authenticated by the relevant authorities," says Sameh.

"What the proposed draft does is protect the girl and any children by legalising their status."

Head of National Council for Women (NCW) Maya Morsi opposes the draft which she says represents "a step backwards". Women, argues Morsi, have gained many rights in the past decade and 2017 was designated the year of women by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. "How is it,” asks Morsi, “that such a suggestion can be raised at a time when women’s rights are looking up?”

The NCW has sent a report on the ramifications of the proposed change to the president’s office. It claims lowering the marriage age will impact negatively on the health of mothers and children and marginalize women’s role in society, reinforcing stereotypes that seek to restrict women to the home and child rearing.

"The move will also hinder government efforts to address the problem of over population. Egypt's population is 100 million and increasing at a rate of 2.4 per cent. China's population is growing at 0.5 per cent, a fifth of Egypt’s rate," says the report.

The draft law, argues Morsi, contradicts with Article 80 of constitution which defines children as those under the age of 18.

"Child marriage remains a chronic problem in Egypt," says Morsi. A recent study conducted by the NCW found that, despite 18 being set as the minimum age for marriage, 36 per cent of marriages in rural areas, informal areas and in Upper Egypt involve a partner who has not reached 18.

"It undermines public welfare to legalise a condition already criminalised. Early marriage is a key factor in over population," she says. "We should be seeking to raise the marriage age to 21, not decrease it to 16."

Among the many MPs who oppose the draft are the 45 members of the parliamentary bloc Egypt’s Female MPs who have described Sameh's proposals as "a disaster" which will worsen Egypt’s population crisis.

"This draft law is being suggested at a time while Egypt is facing massive propblems because of population growth and will worsen the physiological and psychological problems faced by girls," the bloc said in a statement issued on 11 August.

Bloc member Margret Azer says "instead of lowering the marriage age to 16 the draft should seek to raise it to 21 in order to tackle the problems that come with population growth and with divorce".

While she acknowledges many girls in rural and poor districts marry under the legal age with parental consent Azer insists the job of MPs "is to stand against this trend”.

“Many young girls in rural areas marry under pressure from their parents and community and most families who force their girls to marry at a young age do so out of financial considerations."

Psychiatrist Adli Al-Sheikh warns that marriage at an early age places girls under heavy psychological stress. "They are still young, they are children. How can a child give birth to and raise another child?" asks Adli.

A study by Assiut University estimated that between 2015 and 2016, 600,000 women in Upper Egypt were married before reaching 18. The study also discovered that a quarter of all married women aged 25 to 29 were married before their 18th birthday.

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