Home Archive 17/March/2020 01:24 PM

Underage girls are victims, not wives


By: Aseel Akhras

RAMALLAH, March 17, 2020 (WAFA) - “At the time, I did not know the meaning of marriage. All I knew is that a bride would put on a white gown as her relatives gather, sing and cheer up for her,” Maha Ahmad, the program coordinator for the Mother’s School Society, a society concerned with advancing the Palestinian women’s role and status, reported S. Gh. as saying.

“As soon as the wedding party was over, a new phase that I was neither aware of nor how to deal with started to unfold. As a 13-year-old child, I had not gone through the marriage experience,” she added.

At the age of 13, S. Gh., a pseudonym, was give away in marriage to a young man who was 11 years older than her. Her father forged a birth certificate that showed her age as 18 in order to marry her off. He was not aware that he had committed a crime against his child. According to Islamic jurists, “what is built on illegitimacy is illegitimate”.

During this age period, S. Gh.’s peers lived under the guardianship of their parents. They were not burdened with any responsibility or household chores. Their sole focus was to play and study in preparation for their future. In contrast, S. Gh. was deprived of all of this, and even she had to assume responsibility for a household and provide her children with good care, which she herself lacked.

“Since the first night, I was beaten up and rebuked by my husband. What was more painful is that I did not know why he did so. I had not done anything wrong to him. This situation persisted and became a part of my daily life. He even threatened to get married to another underage girl,” she added.

Some wonder why underage girls don’t resort and report to the competent authorities. Maha Ahmad, a specialist, says in this regard: “Underage girls are mostly not sufficiently aware of the need to resort to the competent authorities. Some of them do not dare to even step out of their houses to do so. Thus, dozens of stories about underage girls who fell victims to their husbands remain untold.”

Parents usually fake the birth certificates of their underage girls to circumvent the Shari‘a Courts Law, which sets marriageable age at 15 Hijri years, equivalent to 14 calendar years, six months and 21 days.

A similar story recounts how B. K. attempted to return to her father’s house on her wedding night out of her belief that she had to go to sleep in her bed because the wedding party was over.

B. K. was also married off at the age of 15 to a young man who was 7 years older than her. Following her marriage, her parents left her and traveled to a Gulf country.

B. K. was beaten up and humiliated at her husband’s house. When she sought the assistance of her uncle, who was supposed to act as her father and defender, she was shocked to find out that he would return her to her husband’s house and ignore her complaint. This situation encouraged her husband and his parents to continue to beat her up.

“On the first night, I behaved like any other child who did not know what marriage means. Acting innocently, I attempted to return with my parents to our house. However, my sister-in-law prevented me from doing so, escorted me along with my husband to a room and closed the room’s door without even taking the trouble to understand me or explain what was going on,” Maha Ahmad recounted B.K. as saying.

B. K. gave birth to seven children from her husband. She still lives with him for no other reason but to take care of her children. 

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, a total of 10,256 marriage contracts were registered for females under the age of 18 in Palestine in 2016. In addition, 9,453 similar contracts were registered in 2017 and 8,559 contracts in 2018. In contrast, 507 marriage contracts were registered for males from the same age group in 2016, 429 contracts in 2017, and 365 contracts in 2018.

Concerned by these numbers, in its session held on October 21, the Council of Ministers submitted a recommendation to President Mahmoud Abbas on amending Article (5) of the Code of Personal Status of 1976 setting the marriage age at 18 calendar years for both sexes with some exceptions decided by the Chief Justice. 


‘Awad: Early marriage destroys the household and threatens women health-wise, psychologically and socially

Acting Director-General of the Health Ministry’s Women Health and Development Department MahaAwad said that early marriage has psychological and physical impact on girls.

She elaborated that when an underage girl is married off, she does not have a fully-grown body and is not psychologically and mentally prepared yet to shoulder the responsibility entailed by marriage. So, when a 15-year-old girl conceives, she endangers herself during pregnancy due to her physical weakness. She also endangers her infant’s life for no other reason except for her lack of experience to take care of him/her. In some cases, she is the one who needs to be taken care of. 

“During pregnancy, the female experiences changes and becomes susceptible to psychological distress as a result of fluctuating hormones. So, how could a 14-year-old girl deal with all of these changes and simultaneously shoulder her household responsibilities?” ‘Awad added.

Commenting on the high divorce rates among children, ‘Awad ascribed them to the children’s lack of awareness on marriage and their inability to accommodate the changes they go through, especially after giving birth.

She pointed out that “divorce cases complicates matters and exacerbates social problems. For instance, when an underage girl returns along with a child or town children to her family, she and her children experience renewed suffering due to the lack of tolerance for divorce. Therefore, early marriage contributes to the destruction of the family.”

Statistical data show that there were 806 divorce cases among females under the age of 18 in 2016, 807 cases in 2017 and 769 cases in 2018. In contrast, only 47 divorce cases were registered among males in 2016, 39 cases in 2017 and 35 cases in 2018.


Hamad: Raising the marriage age is a national achievement that conforms to international agreements

Minister of Women Affairs Amal Hamad commended the government’s decision to submit a recommendation to the President on raising the marriage age at 18 calendar years for both sexes as a victory for Palestinian women and as the outcome of persistent efforts exerted by the government and women’s institutions.

She noted that the decision falls in line with international agreements to which Palestine has acceded and the Palestinian law stipulating that a child is a person below the age of 18 full years.

“The marriage of underage girls poses a major social problem. Girls under the age of 18 who are married off mostly end up with divorce. That is because they are not mature enough to get married at this age, particularly that such a marriage violates health standards and might pose a threat to the maternal and child health,” she said.

“Despite the important role of the law in curbing this issue, efforts should be exerted to raise the awareness of the community in general and parents in particular on the serious health, social and economic implications of early marriage,” she added. 

Highlighting the importance of this decision in raising the education level of underage girls, she said that marriage poses an obstacle to girls under the age of 18 wishing to pursue their high school and university studies. So, the decision helps raise the education level among females in general, which would have a positive impact on their awareness and families.

Hamas applauded the decision as a significant achievement on the Palestinian National Women’s Day, which is marked on December 26th of each year.


Shubeita: Marrying off underage girls contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child and CEDAW

Coordinator of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network’s Women’s Committee Sana Shubeita said that marrying off girls under the age of 18 contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Palestine has acceded. She noted that, under the Palestinian Law, a child is a person below the age of 18 full years, and, therefore, such girls do not have the freedom of choice and legal capacity to get married.

Marrying off underage girls, she noted, also contravenes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article (16) of the convention, she elaborated, provides that “the betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory,” while article (2) of the convention stresses the principle of equality of men and women. This principle is not observed when underage girls are married off as they are denied their right to choose their spouses and get married.

She applauded the government’s decision to submit a recommendation to President Abbas on  setting the marriage age at 18 calendar years for both sexes as an achievement for women and as a part of the feminist movement’s demands. She noted that more efforts are required to achieve the goal of eliminating early marriage

In Shubeita’s opinion, the law as deficient since it allows exceptions to be determined by the Chief Justice. This situation has created dissatisfaction among civil society organizations, human rights activists and feminist movement.

She called for unifying efforts to bring local laws into alignment with the conventions signed by Palestine in order to ensure equality for women and enable them to attain their legal and social rights. She stressed the need to provide legal support and counseling for underage girls affected by early marriage.

A total of 49,930 marriage contracts were registered in Palestine in 2016, and the number of such contracts reached 47,218 in 2017 and 43,515 in 2018.

Statistics also show that there were 8,510 registered divorce cases in Palestine in 2016, and the number of such cases reached 8,568 in 2017 and 8,509 in 2018.


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