Child Marriage: How is this still a thing?
Iraq just tossed women’s rights under the bus, throwing human rights and women’s rights back half a century.
I thought we agreed, globally, that kids getting married is not a good thing. Why are we still discussing this!? Maybe it’s because legislation still doesn’t side with children when it comes to marriage. We come up with all sorts of creative justifications: religions, conflict, fear, traditions, cultures, and even use “protection of the child” as an excuse.
Lebanon still has not passed legislation on minimum age of marriage. The age is set based on personal status laws and religious courts, which are known to make exceptions for marriages of children under the age of 18.
The country remains in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, despite having ratified the agreement without reservations in 1991. Civil society has been actively engaged for many years on the issue of (girl) child marriage through awareness campaigns, knowledge sharing, conferences, and other efforts to shed light on – and ultimately remedy – this social problem.
And Iraq – what on earth is happening there?!
Why is child marriage a good idea anywhere, at any time, for any reason?!
On a positive note, we recently came across a talented filmmaker and passionate advocate for equality who is taking his activism to the screen. The award-winning Lebanese filmmaker Khalil Dreyfus Zaarour, wrote, directed and produced NOUR, a feature fiction film about forced child marriage, building on true stories of girls forced into marriage at an early age. Khalil told us that it was his duty as a filmmaker to shed light on challenging human rights issues and expose inequalities – and he was particularly drawn to this issue.
He explains: I want to interfere where there is inequality, suffering, injustice – in Lebanon in particular. That’s the main reason I took on the challenge to make this film. It’s not the conventional choice for cinema.
Meanwhile, our government is in paralysis – literally in every way, but also when it comes to child marriage legislation. The movement started when a draft law was submitted that would regulate child marriage – rather than prevent it totally. This draft law obviously took our various religions and personal status codes into account – tragic tools of the patriarchy that do little to support and empower women, and fail to protect girls from crimes such as early marriage.
And then, civil society changed its tactics, pressuring the government to adopt a uniform legal minimum age for marriage. And meanwhile, we’re working with the Women’s Refugee Commission and Johns Hopkins to complete a research project on child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon – to get a better sense of the landscape.
So, this new draft law that would set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions. It was introduced in March 2017, along with a coalition to push this forward.
This year, Lebanon was represented at the Committee of the Rights of the Child to submit its national report on its fulfillment of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The issue of child marriage was the most prominent recommendation of the experts in the committee.
Today, the draft law appears to be a positive step, but there are obstacles. Lebanon’s unstable political situation remains a challenge, especially given the events of the last weeks and the precarious security situation. It remains unclear if parliamentary elections of May 2018 will continue as scheduled. As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to spill into Lebanon, the pressure to address refugee-specific issues increases.
Media interest in the issue is minimal, and the draft law lacks the proper support it would need to mobilize parliamentarians. The issue is also not a priority for the majority of the Lebanese population, given the overall low number of such marriages.
As is often the case in Lebanon, the law is seen as a challenge to the religious sectarian system that controls the family. Religious institutions have a history of presenting strong opposition to similar laws, because, well, it would appear that restricting freedom for women and girls is in their interest.
The law is also being discussed at a time when several other women’s issues are on the agenda of the parliament, including the abolition of Article 522 (marry your rapist law), which might weaken efforts to implement this law.
Given the above challenges, and the somewhat patchy track record in terms of implementing laws that prioritize protection and prevention for vulnerable women and girls, activists remain skeptical.
And recently, in Iraq, an amendment to the personal status law aims to legalize marriage for children as young as nine. This law places power in the hands of Muslim clerics who will be empowered to make such decisions, in violation of international protocols and principles.
Human rights, women’s rights, and child rights activists together are outraged and have been protesting this regression, calling it “catastrophic for women’s rights”. This move could set women’s rights in Iraq back 50 years.