Friday, September 20, 2013

Solving the Problem of Child Marriage

by Mohshin Habib

Earlier this year, a 15 year old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes for being raped and made pregnant by her stepfather. Premarital sex is not legal, but flogging is.

An eight-year-old girl, identified as Rawan, and married the week before to a 40-year-old man in the northwestern Yemen, died of internal injuries the first night of forced marriage to a groom five times her age, the Daily Mail reports on September 9th.

Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour has now declared that enough is enough -- telling CNN that the growing anger over Rawan's case has presented Yemen with an opportunity to finally do the right thing. "Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It is time to end this practice," she said.

But practically nothing is taking place.

Although the situation of a ten-year-old Yemeni girl raped and abused by her husband led, in 2009, to the proposal of a bill establishing 17 as a minimum age for marriage, the legislation has not yet been enacted, mainly due to opposition from the Yemeni Parliamentary Committee on Islamic law.

Two earlier proposals for laws setting minimum ages for marriage in Yemen were stuck down in 1999, thanks to objection from religious leaders.

Whatever the constitution and penal code of a Muslim dominated country suggests, it seems that the society and the government itself are not able to budge Islamic instructions, values and tenets -- especially on the issue of child marriage. In most Muslim countries, laws and even constitutions, when they collide with Islamic trends that have existed for the last 1,400 years, seem to have absolutely no effect.

A Nigerian senator and ex-governor of Zamfara state Ahmad Sani Yerima appeared on Al-Jazeera's "The Stream" show on September 4th to argue that if a Muslim groom is selecting a bride from a Muslim family, whatever her age, it is no one else's business. He referred to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who married a 9-year-old child, Ayesha (actually he wedded her when she was six, and consummated the marriage when she was nine). Therefore any Muslim who marries a girl of nine or above is following the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Senator Yerima, 54, who married a 13-year-old girl in 2009 as his fourth wife, said he finds nothing wrong in his action.

In Nigeria, the NGO "Gender and Constitution Reform Network" [GECORN] sent a letter to the president of the senate on July 24, 2013, stressing the importance of removing the constitution's clause that legitimizes child marriage – clause 29(4)(b), which states: "any women who is married shall be deemed to be a full age". However, the senate committee that debated removing the provision failed to gain the required 73 votes required to remove it.

Senator Yerima, backed by some conservative members, also opposed the clause's removal, and insisted that under Islamic tenets, a woman, once married, is of age. "The constitution says the National Assembly shall legislate on marriage except those under Islamic rites," he said.
According to the UN, 20% of Nigerian girls are married by age 15. In addition, Nigeria's Child Rights Act is not recognized in 12 states of Nigeria, out of a total of 36.

Earlier this year in the Maldives, a 15-year-old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes for being raped and made pregnant by her stepfather.

In the Maldives, premarital sex is not legal, but flogging is, and an accepted punishment. The girl had been under house arrest on an island near the capital, Malé, since her sentencing. The charge against her of fornication sparked a petition by the global network AVAAZ, signed by two million people around the world who called for the sentence to be commuted. Opposition MPs called British Prime Minister David Cameron to put pressure on the Maldivian government.

According to Sharia law, if a woman is raped, she is considered guilty of adultery unless she can provide four adult Muslim male witnesses. Her punishment is stoning to death if she is married, or 100 lashes if she is single.

According to the constitution, the Maldives is a democratic republic based on the principles of Islam. Article 7 states that Islam is the state religion and Article 16 states that it allows for criminal defense in accordance with Sharia. According to Maldives's custom, the minimum age for marriage is 15, but the local Protection of the Rights of the Child law discourages marriage before the age of 16.

In Bangladesh, in April 2011, a politician and highly respected Islamic cleric, the late Fazlul Haq Amini, said that 200,000 jihadists were ready to sacrifice their lives to oppose any law restricting child marriage. He declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage were putting the prophet Muhammad in a bad light: "Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of holy prophet of Islam. Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women."

This situation apparently exists in every Muslim country: there are thousands of victims of ostensibly legitimate sexual abuse of children across the Muslim world.

Dr. Zakir Naik, originally from India, who is president of the Islamic Research Foundation that owns the Peace TV channel based in Dubai, has millions of followers around the globe. He has also been promoting child marriage through his preaching.

The International Center for Research on Women has stated about child marriage, that if present trends continue, 142 million prepubescent girls will marry over the next decade -- or 38,000 girls who will marry every day for the next 10 years. According to the study, most of the victims are from Muslim-dominated areas.

Advocacy groups from Western countries and say they are concerned about the issue. The United States alone spends billion of dollars to reduce maternal death and infant mortality, improve the attainment of education, and promote the rule of law for the affected countries. But the big question is: Will the effort bring any solution to the Islamic problem of child marriage so long as the preaching of these clerics is not countered?

Mohshin Habib


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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