Rules set to curb child marriages in Jordan
Amman - Jordan recently introduced regulations to curb early marriages, a tradition that is widespread in a country that has one of the highest divorce rates in the region.
Under the new rules, girls can marry at the age of 15 if certain conditions are met beforehand. Those include the husband not having been married before, the girl being allowed to continue her education after marriage and an age difference of less than 15 years.
Couples are required to attend a workshop on marriage organised by the Iftaa’ Department, which oversees Islamic edicts in Jordan, and present a certificate of attendance before they are married.
The move was harshly rebuked by human rights groups.
“No individual should be allowed to get married at an early age because it is simply having children parenting other children and it is against children’s rights and all conventions that talk about human rights,” said Rana Husseini, an award-winning journalist and rights activist.
“I do not believe that such marriages should happen because most of these marriages end up in divorce or murder or even cases of abuse. There should be no exceptions.”
With approximately 22,000 divorce cases in 2016 — up from 1,000 in 2011, Jordan has one of the highest divorce rates in the region, the Department of Statistics said.
In 2002, Jordan amended its Personal Status Law, raising the legal age of marriage to 18. However, the amendment allowed for exceptions, which were mostly the rule. In certain instances, girls as young as 12 were married by clerics who allegedly accepted bribes in return for signing the marriage contract.
“Many people consider the new regulation a step backward though it attempts to regulate early marriages by imposing some restrictions… still exceptions can easily find their way,” Husseini said. “The brides are children thrown in difficult situations which they simply cannot handle.”
Former Minister of Culture Asma Khader described the new marriage regulation as ambiguous and confusing.
“It lacks clarity as it does not specify how a judge or a religious leader can ensure that requirements for young girls to marry are met,” Khader said. “Also, it does not say what are the penalties that should be imposed on those who don’t follow regulations.”
Khader stressed that parents should be held accountable for marriages that go wrong as they are responsible for decisions made on behalf of their underage children.
“The regulations should be clearer and they should be applied to cases where there is no doubt that marriage will work. What guarantees can the groom give to allow his child bride to continue studying? There are none. The percentage of early marriage in Jordan is around 13% and this is very high,” she added.
The Higher Population Council, the government department responsible for population policies, said approximately 13.5% of married women in Jordan wed before the age of 18 and the majority were educated only up to primary school.
Many Jordanians said the regulations allowed for the “rape of childhood under the provision of the law.”
“How can it be possible that you can marry and have children at the age of 15, while you are not allowed to vote or drive?” asked Tareq Zaghmot, 33.
“This is rape of childhood. How can a girl who is 15 be responsible to start a family while she is a child? We are living in the Stone Age and this should not be allowed at all,” said Laila Zou’bi, 25.
“Poverty could be a reason where families ‘sell’ their girls under the cover of marriage to someone who has money thinking that it will save their financial situation and these cases are quite common among Syrian refugees,” Zou’bi said.
Planning and International Cooperation Minister Imad Fakhoury condemned the government’s new regulation during the introduction of a study — on the “Marriage of Minors in Jordan” — stating that “child marriage is (merely) a reproduction of poverty, ignorance and disease.”
An annual report by the Department of Statistics stated that cases of early marriage increased to 10,907 in 2016 from 10,866 cases in 2015.