Controversy erupted following the circulation of engagement photos of two minors in Daqahleya governorate on social media, drawing attention to the under-reported phenomenon of child marriage in Egypt.
Member in the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights (ECCR) Hani Helal told Daily News Egypt that the incident itself is two crimes according to Egypt’s penal code. The first one is informal child marriage and the second is the exploitation of children.
Helal added that the parents might face a fine that ranges between EGP 50,000 and EGP 200,000 and a minimum prison sentence of five years.
“The current laws are not applied because the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood is operating under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. However, it should be an independent institution that operates directly under the supervision of the prime minister,” Helal explained.
He further added that Dar Al-Ifta, the authority for religious verdicts in Egypt, does not have a unified opinion regarding the verdict on child marriage. This allows preachers in remote areas and Upper Egypt to claim that child marriage is acceptable.
In response to the incident, member of parliament Aneesa Hassouna filed an urgent statement to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and the ministers of social solidarity, religious endowments, and interior about the marriage of minors in Egypt.
In the statement, Hassouna said that child marriage without official paperwork acknowledged by the Civil Status Organisation is the main reason behind the violation of girls’ rights. In case of divorce, the girl does not have any legal rights. She further added that child marriage is not only a legal crime, but also it is a crime against humanity that destroys the future of a lot of girls.
Head of the fatwa department at Dar Al-Ifta, Khaled Omran, said in an interview with a privately-owned TV channel that all the state’s bodies should cooperate to combat this phenomenon.
“Minor girls get married because of financial problems, and this results in them marrying much older men,” Omran said, adding that there are several religious misconceptions upon which people allow their children to get married at such a young age.
Omran also added in comments to the privately-owned newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabaa that lawmakers and doctors should have a say in setting the minimum age of marriage, further saying that Islamic doctrines stipulate that a main condition of marriage is physical and mental maturity, and minors lack both.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly also condemned the act, saying that child marriage is a crime and penalties on the parents should be severe, since they deprive their daughters from education and a life that is suitable for their age.
Waly stated: “This crime is deemed as an attack on the girls’ right to live, and it also says a lot about ignorance among those who approve of it.”
Early marriage is a prevalent problem in Egypt. The National Council for Women in Egypt published a survey in 2015 stating that 22% of Egypt’s girls are married before turning 18. In the governorates of Port Said and Fayoum, this percentage rose to 38% and 31% respectively.