By: Alexandra Kinias
Summer; it is the time of the year when news media and NGOs, in Egypt, remember to write about the underage marriages of Egyptian girls to wealthy men from Arabia and the Gulf area. Not that the rest of the year the girls are safe, but it became a seasonal phenomenon that escalates during the summer holidays, and remembered especially after the annual U.S. State department report about trafficking in person is released. The 2012 report classified Egypt, again, as a Tier 2, which means that Egypt is among the countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victim’s Program Assistance (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. The same report stated that the political instability in Egypt has contributed to the failure to enforce the laws against such marriages.
There are multiple factors that contribute to this phenomenon, which the failure of the government to enforce the law is one of them, but not entirely responsible for it. Poverty, illiteracy, greed and religion are the major ingredients for the spread of underage marriages. Poverty alone can’t be blamed because there are millions of poor families who don’t sell their girls for money. Even prior to the political instability in Egypt, laws were not enforced, and since these laws came into effect, two people were prosecuted and jailed.
After the Egyptian revolution, the already degraded status of women declined even more. With less representation in the parliament and alienation from the political life, the situation for these underprivileged and underage girls will get worse. The newly elected Islamist parliament had already discussed a law to drop the age of marriage below eighteen. Luckily this law was never drafted as the parliament was dissolved by the high court. If this law had passed, it would have been disastrous. Researchers found that girls who were married younger than eighteen suffered from several psychiatric disorders as depression and anxiety, not to mention the complications due to pregnancies and the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Not to mention that most of these girls end up returning back to their family home with unwanted offspring.
Also, pedophilia is a widely spread practice in the Middle East. Fortified by Religious Fatwas that encourage it, this crime will not be eradicated in the near future, if ever. With religion as their guideline, the brainwashed illiterate people only listen to their imams and disregard the law. These wealthy men who are exploiting the innocence of these girls see no wrongdoing in their actions. They have already been blessed by the religious scholars and are convinced that they are following in the footsteps of the prophet who married his wife Aisha when she was at the age of nine. Islam gives them the license and their fat wallets enables them to disobey the laws. These men are not looking for a wife because they already have one. They are more interested to purchase a young sex slave for the duration of their vacation.
Often birth certificates of the underage girls are forged or simply an unregistered contract is drafted between their male legal guardians and the groom. This licensed prostitution is acceptable to the society as Hotels and landlords don’t allow unmarried couples to stay together under the same roof. Underage marriages are a classic case of child sex trafficking. As defined by TVPA sex trafficking is that in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. Betrayed by their guardians, family members and society, the victims have no saying in these decisions. They are helpless and broken souls. Their childhood is stolen, they are deprived from living a normal life as a child and their future no longer belongs to them either. Some of the girls are sold to one man after the other.
Unfortunately, due to the many factors mentioned earlier, this crime will not be eradicated in the near future. However, what I find intriguing is that NGOs are not raising enough voices to put pressure on the government to act. There is no justification to the failure of bringing more publicity to this issue. Reading a UN report or writing an article in a newspaper that is hardly read, do not bring attention to the issue. Public campaigns on national televisions that are watched in every corner in Egypt will be more effective, but the silence is deafening. With the persistence of the problem, no one yet is taking the lead to find solutions for it, which makes me wonder if the reason of this silence is the fear of conflict between human rights groups and the religious institutions that are devouring the civility of the state through their scholars who are recycling medieval fatwas in the twenty first century.
Some argue that the underage marriages are not a top priority of women who are already fighting different battles in many fronts to salvage the few rights they have won and which are already slipping through their hands. Unfortunately, amongst this chaos, no one is thinking of how the future of these young girls would look like with no one fighting their present.