Props to the stellar IWSAW team for giving us this update… in case we’ve forgotten that girls are still being married off while we remain politically paralyzed…
The unfortunate fact is that no minimum age for marriage exists in Lebanon, even though Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child without reservations. Marriage age is set based on the personal status laws of the different religious sects, which are known to make exceptions for marriages of children under the age of 18.
The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) has been a dedicated partner in the fight to establish a minimum legal age of marriage, and ultimately prevent child marriage. In 2014, IWSAW in collaboration with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) organized and launched an advocacy campaign called Protect Underage Girls from Early Marriage and prepared a short documentary on the issue.
In February of 2018, the Institute screened the award-winning Lebanese film Nour, the story of a young Lebanese girl forced to marry an older man. Written and directed by a Lebanese American University alumnus, the Institute organized film screenings both at the LAU Beirut campus, and the LAU New York City campus in early summer of 2018.
In spring of 2018, IWSAW participated in the Second Regional Consultation on Child Marriage in the Arab States, led by UNFPA and in collaboration with several regional and international organizations. The Institute presented on the current child marriage research across the region; proper research techniques, including how to conduct ethical research with child populations; and, finally, next steps for researchers on the issue of child marriage.
The Institute is now working with the Women’s Refugee Commission and Johns Hopkins University to complete a research project on child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Focusing on South Lebanon, this will be one of the first prevalence studies on child marriage done in South Lebanon, and will be published in early 2019.
The Institute continues to publish on issues of child marriage as part of a larger, worldwide advocacy campaign on the issue. In 2001, the Institute published a thematic issue of Al-Raida that focused on marriage patterns throughout the Arab world, and included authors such as Manal Omar, a leading women’s rights lawyer in Lebanon, and Nawal El Saadawi, a leading feminist activist in the region. Such articles include “Ending Child Marriage in Lebanon”; “Syrian Girls Pushed into Child Marriage”; “Violence, Inequalities, and Challenges for Women in the Arab Region”; and “What’s Holding Arab Women Back” all focus on the Institute’s work on child marriage and its broader work on gender equality across the Arab region.
This work follows recent research studies on child marriage in the country. More recent studies include those done by the University of Saint Joseph; Dr. Zouheir Hatab at the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering; “A Girl No More” conducted by the American University of Beirut in collaboration with the Women’s Refugee Commission; and a study by UNFPA in coordination with Sawa Organization on child marriage among Syrian refugees.
The movement to amend the law started when NCLW, represented by Ghassan Moukhaiber former MP, submitted a draft law regulating the marriage of minors. However – this law sought to regulate child marriage rather than prevent it totally. And, the law takes religions and personal status laws into account.
A draft law that would set the minimum age of marriage at 18 with no exceptions, prepared by several lawyers at the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering (RDFL) including the human rights activist and lawyer Manar Zeaiter, was introduced in March 2017 and was adopted by former MP Elie Keyrouz, who is affiliated with the Lebanese Forces. The draft law is also being accompanied by a media campaign organized by feminist groups. A coalition was also established to push this forward. Moreover, KAFA “Enough violence and exploitation” proposed a third law submitted through a draft law adopted by the Ministry of State for Human Rights.
The Parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee examined the three texts and formed a subcommittee that worked to merge the two bills in addition to the draft presented by the Ministry of State for Human Rights. The new merged draft law reached by the Committee has developed an effective mechanism for the protection of underage girls from early marriages, and allows the marriage of girls over the age of 16 in exceptional cases only. In such cases, these marriages are contracted under the supervision of a juvenile judge whose decision should be in line with the best interest of the minor. He/she should also take into consideration the expert opinion of medical, social and psychological professionals.
The new draft law is still pending the decision of the Lebanese Parliament. Nothing has changed yet, since the parliamentary committees were not formed after the last parliamentary election in May 2018.