CAIRO: A delay to a new draft law, currently pending before the Parliament of Egypt, that criminalizes marriage under the age of 18 and increases the punishment for violators, has sparked controversy in the North African country.
The hold up is due to Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Islamic scientific body, which has yet to determine the extent of the proposal’s agreement with Shariah law.
Mohamed Sultan, a member of the parliament’s human rights committee, told Arab News: “The House of Representatives submitted a new draft law that increases the punishment for violators of the crime of underage marriage, whether it be parents, authorized persons or lawyers. The Cabinet approved the draft law in April.
“We aim to eliminate this negative phenomenon — as underage marriage is a crime against children — in addition to its negative impact on society. At this age, they are not capable (of taking) responsibility for forming a family and raising children, and this is a flagrant assault on the childhood stage.
“The draft law stipulates that it is not permissible to marry a person who has not reached the age of 18. Whoever marries or participates in the marriage of a male or female under the age of 18 will face a fine of between 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($814) to 50,000 pounds, and a prison sentence no shorter than six months.”
He added: “Anyone who incites the marriage of minors is also punished with the same penalty, and the child is not considered criminal or responsible for this crime.”
Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, which is the largest religious institution in Egypt.
Ahmed Al-Sawy, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Azhar newspaper, told Arab News: “Al-Azhar and its Grand Imam Sheikh Al-Tayyib resolved the issue of child marriage years ago by defining a legal age for marriage, and the scholars supported all efforts to criminalize child marriage.”
Al-Sawy cited statements by Al-Tayyib in which he said: “When talking about this issue, we must differentiate between minors in two senses — the first is the girl has not yet reached the age of puberty, and the second is the girl has just reached puberty but is yet to be psychologically and mentally ready for marriage.”
He added: “I do not think that marriage with minors who are yet to reach puberty was something that existed, occurred, or was a phenomenon that attracted attention. Rather, what used to happen was the girl’s marriage right after reaching puberty.”
Al-Tayyib previously stated: “The issue of determining the age of marriage for girls is subject to the circumstances of the era and changes … and the fact that the law now sets the age of marriage at 18 years is welcome, and there is no objection to this.”
Islam Amer, an Islamic scholar and marriage expert, told Arab News: “I demanded more than once to criminalize the customary marriage for those under 18, and I am now calling on parliament to issue a law that criminalizes marriage under the legal age because early marriage is a violation of children’s rights.”