MOROCCO: Underage marriages increase

Summary: Driven either by poverty or tradition, girls below the legal age of consent continue to wed in Morocco.

[RABAT, 26 January 2011] - Despite the provisions of the Family Code, child marriages are on the rise in Morocco.

The Moudawana raised the minimum marriage age from 14 to 18 and required a judge's approval for nuptials with a minor. Still, five years after the Family Code became law, 33,253 females below the age of 18 tied the knot.

There were nearly 3,000 more child brides in 2009 than during the previous year, the Social Development Ministry reported.

Even though the practice is sustained by long-standing traditions, it is time for the government to take responsibility and bring an end to the phenomenon, MP Farida Naimi said at a November 23rd plenary session at the Chamber of Councillors.

Justice Minister Mohamed Naciri acknowledged that the reality speaks for itself in a number of Moroccan regions where parents marry their daughters off at traditional weddings (through the ritual of fatiha).

"In some places, girls aged 13 or 14 who are still single are regarded as old maids. Worse still, some parents pledge their underage daughters in exchange for 60,000 or 100,000 dirhams until they reach marriageable age," Naciri said.

The problem lies not in the legal domain but in people's attitudes, according to the minister. In several cases, judges are forced to give their approval in order to legalise traditional marriages for girls who are already pregnant. As such, a solution to the problem necessitates social development, especially in terms of education.

Tradition alone doesn't explain the persistence of underage marriages. Poverty is also a factor, said sociologist Ahmed Mrani. Many parents in rural areas prefer to marry off their daughters at an early age because "it means one mouth less to feed".

In his view, the better off families become, the less they will allow their young daughters to wed. To tackle this phenomenon, efforts must be made to encourage development in even the most remote regions, and access to education must be guaranteed, Mrani argued.

Civil society and the media also have important roles to play in raising awareness and highlighting the damaging effects of this practice, he noted.

There are many alarming cases. At the age of 24, Salima N. is already divorced and a mother of three children aged four, six and eight. Her childhood and life were destroyed at the age of 15, she said, when she married a 38-year-old man.

"I was humiliated in all sorts of ways. I didn't understand my role as a spouse or mother. After six years of marriage, I felt worn out. I dared to demand a divorce after several years of suffering," she told Magharebia.


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