The demand by the Islamist Mohamed Saad al-Azhari, member of the constituent assembly which is now writing a new constitution for Egypt, to allow the marriage of girls once they reach puberty even if as young as nine years old, aroused wide criticism by women’s and child’s rights activists
The demand by the Islamist Mohamed Saad al-Azhari, member of the constituent assembly which is now writing a new constitution for Egypt, to allow the marriage of girls once they reach puberty even if as young as nine years old, aroused wide criticism by women’s and child’s rights activists.
Azhari said that the Egyptian constitution should make allowance for the diversity of Egypt’s inhabitants and their various traditions; the Sinai Bedouin, he said, were used to marry off their girls at a very young age. Any talk to the contrary, he said was “unreasonable”. He insisted that Western and UN rights declarations were not necessarily aligned with the traditions of Islamic communities.
Among the most vociferous of Azhari’s critics was the Society for the Advancement and Development of Women. The Society declared that nothing in the Qur’an or Sunna (the Prophet Mohamed’s life) supported Azhari’s claims. The requirement for a woman to marry, a declaration by the Society said, was not whether or not she had reached puberty, but if she was physically, mentally, and emotionally mature. Countless studies have shown that marriage of girls at a young age results in health complications for them and the children they gives birth to, as well as to significant social problems since the girl wife is not capable of running her own or her children’s lives.
As to Islamist claims that the Prophet Mohamed married Aisha when she was nine years old, the declaration said that apart from the fact that this claim is as yet unsubstantiated, social norms were different then.
“We all know,” the declaration said, “that cases of marriage of young girls in Egypt is but ‘prostitution legalised through a marriage contract’, when very poor parents marry off their girls to much older men willing to pay a price. More often than not, these husbands come from the Gulf countries.”
The Society reminded that Egypt was signatory to several UN treaties which place a child’s age at up to 18 years old. The objective, it said, was to secure the child’s rights.
Demands in the constituent assembly to annul the Article 29 of the previous constitution—an article which banned forced labour and slavery for children, the trafficking in women and children, and sex trade—were also severely criticised by the Society. Such an annulment, the Society said, should take Egypt back to the Dark Ages.
23 September 2012
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