Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Egypt campaigning against underage, temporary "marriages"

Last year I linked to a very disturbing article about the phenomenon of what can only be called a slave trade in young girls in Egypt, under the guise of "temporary marriages," often with rich Gulf Arabs.

"Hanadi" was a teenager when she was sold into a short-term marriage by her father. "When I was 14, my father told me I was to be married to a man from Saudi Arabia," said Hanadi, who did not want to use her real name.

"Later on, I discovered that my father and the man had agreed I would stay with him for a month, until he returned home [to Saudi Arabia] at the end of the summer. There was never any intention for us to remain together any longer than his holiday in Egypt."

Hanadi is now 20 years old. She lives in a shelter run by Cairo-based non-governmental organisation the Hope Village Society, which cares for street children.

Although there is no specific law that bans the sale of girls and women into such temporary marriages, which often amount to prostitution, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Egypt is a signatory, forbids the sale of children and bans marriage under the age of 16, said Mohamed Tag el-Din Labib, Hope Village Society training and research director.

In addition, Egyptian law bans both prostitution and the marriage of girls under 16. "Minors in prostitution are sent to a sort of corrective centre, where conditions are often as bad if not worse than they are in adult prisons," said Nihad Abul Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights. "The man involved is not usually prosecuted, but rather acts as a witness in a trial."

However, rights workers say that because minors often go through at least some of the steps that would make a marriage seem legitimate make it difficult for any of the involved parties to be held accountable or be prosecuted. In addition, parents are almost always either in charge of a transaction of this kind, or at the very least are involved and have given their consent.

When young girls are set up to be sold for sex, the matter is very often rendered superficially legal as the couple sign a civil marriage contract and are divorced upon the departure of the male party, or no marriage contract is signed at all, as was the case for Hanadi.

According to Ms Qumsan, rules can be circumvented in a number of ways, including falsifying birth certificates or not registering the marriage at all. Because of this, few statistics or studies on the matter exist. 

Al Arabiya reports on a new Egyptian initiative to stop these temporary "marriages" to underage girls, which is astonishingly prevalent.

According to the article, the Egyptian minister for family and population Mosheera Khetab is campaigning against the phenomenon of underage girls getting married in "temporary summer marriages."  Some 74% of minor marriages in some provinces are really prostitution. 

This comes in the wake of a television show that exposed a network of minor girls who were being repeatedly "married" off to rich Gulf perverts.

One of these Gulf men was arrested and is being held.

(h/t Ali)