Rules set to curb child marriages in Jordan

Sunday 06/08/2017
Irreversible damage. A young girl protests during an event organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage. (AFP)

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.