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Child marriage remains common, despite legal ban

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AUC seminar examines causes and solutions to child marriage

Egyptian activists demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in Cairo in 2012 to support women's rights and protest child marriage (AFP File Photo)

Egyptian activists demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in Cairo in 2012 to support women’s rights and protest child marriage
(AFP File Photo)

By Rana Khaled

After Egypt increased the legal age for marriage to 18 years in 2008, policy makers expected to see a decline in the number of early marriages. But, according to new research presented at a seminar at The American University of Cairo this week, the country must overcome significant economic, social, and cultural barriers before child marriage becomes a thing of the past.

AUC’s Social Research Center organised the two-day seminar in an attempt to “bridge the gap between the different governmental and private institutions concerned with early marriage and reproductive health in Egypt,” said Zeinab Khadr, a professor at the faculty of economics and political science at AUC, who helped plan the event.  Researchers from AUC, Al-Azhar, Cairo, Sohag and Assuit Universities presented at the conference. Other participants included the Egyptian Society for Population Studies and Reproductive Health, and Save the Children, among others.

In Cairo Governorate, nearly 17% of women, aged 10 to 29, were married before age 18, according to an AUC study of 4,500 women that was presented at the seminar. The proportion increased to nearly 18% among women living in low-income areas.

About 7% of the women surveyed reported that their husbands maltreat them and about 27% reported that their husbands have physically abused them, according to the report.

Early marriage is associated with higher fertility and early pregnancy, which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and birth complications, according to AUC researchers. It also has an adverse effect on women’s educational attainment, as they are more likely to drop out of school.

In Upper Egypt, a major driver of early marriage is low income among parents, said Hany Helmy, of the Egyptian NGO Support Center.  In an attempt to attack the root of the problem, the nonprofit has started providing families with micro loans to help their girls finish their education.

The age of marriage affects the role women play in decision making in their families, said Zeinab Heada, senior technical advisor at the international nonprofit organisation CARE International. According to a study CARE conducted in Minya governorate, early marriage has adverse effects on a girl’s personal growth, lessens her opportunity to form independent opinions, and makes her “implicitly obedient to her husband”. The study showed that girls in Minya were prevented from having a mobile phone or having an internet access.

CARE has had success combating early marriage through the use of interactive theatre, Heada said. They used presentations, puppet plays and poetry to raise awareness about the dangers associated with early marriage. They asked girls to spread the idea to their peers at school.

Rahby Shaker, the head of El Salam Association for Social Care and Community Development, said the large number of early marriages in Assuit governorate has contributed to high percentages of illiteracy among women.

The association organises about 50 field visits per month to advocate for literacy among women. They also gathered about 600 of the workers in health sectors and provided them with training sessions to make them more qualified to help girls in the area.

During the seminar, researchers also discussed the first draft of the strategy proposed by the National Population Council to require the different associations working in the fields of early marriage and reproductive health to work together and share their progress and achievements on a regular basis.

“For the first time, the council used different scientific methods to collect data from ordinary people and conducted a lot of focus groups, advisory sessions and scientific researches to design this strategy,” Khadr said. “I think this is the first step in the right direction.”


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