Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boy that helps rescue child brides

Guest post by Youssef, Plan International Egypt
Youssef is an 18-year-old student who lives in a rural town on the outskirts of Giza, the third largest city in Egypt. Youssef lives with his mother and 15-year-old sister - he's part of a youth group that helps to rescue girls from forced marriages. Girls marrying underage is a regular occurrence in Youssef ’s community. * The names of the child brides mentioned in this story have been changed.

I live in a rural town near Giza. Around here girls getting married young is commonplace. Some girls become child brides before they turn 16.

A few years ago I was in school with a girl called Jasmeen*. She was forced to marry her cousin when she was 14. She had no idea her family were planning this.

When she was 13 she was pressured to get engaged against her will.

Jasmeen’s father died when she was quite young. Her uncle - who is father of the groom - became the head of her family. When she got married when she had to drop out of school and there was little she could do about it. Her uncle arranged the whole thing.

At the time I remember feeling that I wanted to do something to help Jasmeen. My friends wanted to help as well. But her husband isolated her and made it difficult for us to keep in contact with her.

The last I heard she was pregnant. There was another girl called Zainab*. Her parents forced her to get married at 14.

She dropped out of school and got pregnant soon after. But the pregnancy was traumatic and she suffered the first of two miscarriages. I have been told she still suffers from health problems because of what happened to her. My friends and I persuaded Zainab’s husband to allow her to return to school. She is 18 now and back in full time education.

Jasmeen’s and Zainab’s situation had a profound affect on me. Both girls were child brides and went through a lot at such a young age.

I have a 15-year-old sister and I dread to think of her being made to marry against her will and going through a similar ordeal. This is why I am part of a youth club that campaigns against child marriage.

We have had some opposition from some sections of the local community, particularly from individuals who make a lot of money from these marriages. But we have also had backing from a local Sheikh and a group of lawyers who have joined forces with our club.

So that gives me hope.

We also came to the rescue of a 16-year-old girl who was under pressure to marry a cousin who was in his twenties.

Her name was Shazia* and her father was planning to take her out of school. Some of my friends and I got together and were able to talk to Shazia’s family and persuade them to postpone the marriage. Now Shazia is a member of our group and helps us our activities. In recent months there has been so much change in Egypt. I hope to see a change in people’s views on child marriage, because it’s wrong for a girl or boy to be forced to marry”.

I really believe that we can make difference on this issue. I know it won’t be easy and there is a long way to go.”

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  1. Is there not a distinction between forced marriages and child marriages?

  2. I would think, "Anonymous", that child marriage is by definition a forced marriage. This young man is obviously focusing on forced child marriage. What's the point in splitting hairs, are you in line to marry a little girl yourself or something? Why offer any criticism whatsoever of what these brave young people are doing in standing up to stupid old traditions? how silly you are.

  3. Child marriages are considered in general to be forced marriages since children are under the age of majority and cannot make fully-informed free decisions regarding marriage. A recent publication by Plan International directly addresses the question of child and forced marriage:

    "Marriage is a formalised, binding partnership between consenting adults. Child marriage, on the other hand, involves either one or both spouses being children and may take place under civil, religious or customary laws with or without formal registration. Children are people under the age of 18 years old and references to ‘girls’ throughout this report mean females below the age of 18.
    Early because girls marry before the age of 18
    The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.’
    Marriage before the age of 18 years old should not be permitted since children do not have the
    ‘full maturity and capacity to act,’ as recognised by the expert body that monitors the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in its General Recommendation 21.
    Forced because girls rarely give their free and full consent to marry The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that marriage should be ‘entered only with
    the free and full consent of the intending spouses.’ In the majority of child marriages, however,there is often an element of coercion involved: parents, guardians or families put pressure on children or force them into marriage. Early marriage is accepted as the norm in many countries and girls may give their consent as a duty and sign of respect to their family and community.
    However, where one of the parties in a marriage is under the age of 18 years old, consent cannot
    always be assumed to be ‘free and full’ and is rarely in the best interest of the girl."

    You can find the entire document at the following link:

    Best regards,
    Christine Sow
    Vice President for Programs
    Plan International USA

  4. This raises the corollary question of "the age of consent" at which statutory rape becomes moot. In many civilized countries, even the US and Canada, the age of consent is under 18. Even below the age of consent, if both partners are within 2 years of each other's age is is not considered illegal! Girls can still marry at age 16 (or even younger) with the "consent" of their parents. Yes folks it could happen here - anyone remember Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 14 year old cousin?

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