Child Marriage in Egypt: A Harmful Practice
Egypt currently faces a significant child marriage issue. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports indicate that nearly 17% of girls marry before turning 18. Child marriage in Egypt pervades the country, infringing on young girls’ rights and adversely affecting their health, education and future opportunities.
Child Protection Law in Egypt and Loopholes in the Legal Age of Marriage
The Persons and Family Law No. 126 of 2008 mandates a legal marriage age of at least 18 years old for both men and women. Unfortunately, since there are no criminal penalties for families conducting child marriages through religious ceremonies, girls in rural areas become three times more likely to marry before 18.
Some religious and cultural traditions support early marriage, legally registering the marriage only when the bride turns 18. Underage girls may also enter unofficial customary marriages called “urfi.”
Risks and Consequences of Child Marriage
World Bank statistics show that 46 of every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 gave birth in Egypt in 2020. Early marriage often leads to girls dropping out of school, which limits their future opportunities and increases their vulnerability to poverty. Furthermore, they are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
Government Efforts to Ban Child Marriage in Egypt
The Egyptian government has committed to eliminating child marriage in Egypt by 2030, aligning with the Sustainable Development Goal target 5.3. Various actions are in progress, including the establishment of Equal Opportunities Units within ministries, the launch of initiatives to increase women’s participation in the economy and partnerships with the United Nations (U.N.) agencies for women’s empowerment.
The Egyptian government has launched a comprehensive National Strategy for the Empowerment of Women 2030 aimed at empowering women across various spheres of life, focusing on six key pillars. In addition to this, the government has also endorsed Egypt’s National Strategy for the Prevention of Early Marriage 2015-2020, demonstrating its commitment to promoting the rights of women in the country. Since 2019, the Egyptian government has been making recommendations to prevent child marriage in Egypt and intensify awareness-raising campaigns.
Local and International Non-Governmental Organizations Efforts
Organizations such as the Tadwein Center for Gender Studies and Plan International work to address the root causes of child marriage, like poverty and lack of access to education. The Tadwein Center for Gender Studies, established in 2014, promotes gender awareness, empowers women and fights against violence against women and girls in Egypt. The center initiated the #HerDreamIsMoreImportant social media campaign in 2020, addressing child marriage consequences. The campaign started during the global event Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
Plan International, working in Egypt since 1981, aims to improve children’s lives through education and gender equity. Its program offers psychosocial support to over 4,000 vulnerable Syrian refugee and Egyptian children, providing safe spaces and fostering resilience. This approach empowers girls to resist early marriage and raises community awareness about gender equality and children’s rights.
Declining Rates of Child Marriage in Egypt
UNICEF statistics show a decline in child marriage rates, as the percentage of women marrying before the age of 15 dropped from 3.9% in 2000 to 2.0% in 2014. Various factors contribute to this positive trend, including government partnerships with the National Council for Women and U.N. Women Egypt Country Office and prioritizing the 2030 National Women’s Empowerment Strategy.
Consequently, women’s unemployment rate dropped from 21.7% in 2019 to 17.7% in 2020. Furthermore, educated girls with improved societal status marry later, contributing to inclusive economic development.
In the Works for Egypt
The Association of the Egyptian Female Lawyers launched a campaign called #1000جمعية#, or #1000Associations#, to urge President Abd El Fattah El Sisi and parliamentarians to criminalize child marriage in Egypt. While the Egyptian government has achieved progress in fighting child marriage, implementing further action to strengthen enforcement and tackle the root causes of this harmful practice could deliver more desired results. With the continued commitment of the Egyptian government, NGOs and international partners, there is hope for a future that is free of child marriage.
– Tanya Hamad