Thursday, July 14, 2005

Child Marriage

This article started out from one place and then goes all over the map, so bear with me.

The United Nations, Afghan government officials and human rights groups in Kabul all expressed grave concerns about the widespread practice of child marriage in Afghanistan as that country marked World Population Day on Tuesday.

The Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)reports, “Nearly 60 percent of marriages in Afghanistan involve girls below the legal age of 16, according to reports from the Ministry of Women's Affairs and NGOs. Some girls are married as young as nine.” Afghanistan's new constitution sets the minimum age of marriage for females at 16 and for males 18 but in rural and even some urban areas, the tradition of marrying off daughters while even younger in order to receive money, repay a debt or to resolve a feud remains common

Besides the obvious awfulness of child marriage (especially forced child marriage) rights and health activists say child marriages increase maternal mortality and end up disallowing girls the right to an education and an independent life. “Child marriage and early childbearing mean an incomplete education, limited opportunities and serious health risks,” said Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs Masouda Jalal.

“Badakhshan [northeastern province] has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and one of the main reasons is under-age marriages - even as young as seven in some cases. This needs to be addressed,” Paul Greening a project officer of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Wednesday in Kabul.

But the problems of child marriage appear in the supposedly more cosmopolitan capital of Kabul as well. “It is a shame to say that even in the capital Kabul we treat pregnant mothers as young as 12 years of age,” said a midwife at Malalai Hospital, the leading maternity and gynecology unit in the capital.

A recent study by Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has found 500 girls who had been given away or traded as part of local conflict resolution practices. Of these, 90 percent were under 14 years old. Most become the 'property' of the family or individual who receives them.

An Amnesty International report released earlier this year highlights the failure (despite pleas by the government to the contrary) of the Afghan authorities, to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of women and girls. It stresses that state must accept responsibility and ensure that the right to live free from violence is fully realized for women and men in Afghanistan. The report states there are reported increases in forced marriages and some women have killed themselves to escape, including by self immolation.

In fact, although stringent researched data is hard to come by, hospitals and aid agencies have reported increasing number of female burn cases. "In the burn ward, you can tell the self-immolation cases from the regular burn cases," said Sinclair, who was on assignment in western Afghanistan for Marie Claire magazine.

"There is an absolute level of despair, that you will never be able to make a choice about your life and that really there is no way out, and knowing that you will have to live with a man you have not chosen, who is probably older than you are, who is not going to allow you to work, to go out of the house," Rachel Wareham of L'Association M├ędicale Mondiale, or World Medical Association, an international physicians group told ABC News.

Many like to blame Islam for this practice, but such blame is ill placed.

Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, in Islam Today, writing about forced marriage of teenage girls by some South Asian Muslims in Britain cites the Quran in opposition to the practice.

'Truly Allah has totally forbidden disobedience (and the subsequent hurt) to mothers, burying alive daughters, with-holding the rights of others, and demanding that which is not your right.' (Hadith Muslim 4257. Recorded by Mughirah b. Shuba).

“With these simple words our Beloved Prophet expressed so much that should convince any Muslim person seeking to force a marriage upon a daughter (or son) that what they are intending is not only terribly wrong, but also in direct opposition to the true spirit of Islam.

He argues that, “At first glance, it looks as if it is ammunition to be used against the daughter who does not want to accept the proposed husband and is going against her mother's wishes, but further insight reveals there is far more to it than that. There are three further totally forbidden things that the parents should 'take on board'. It is quite clearly NOT the right of the parent to enforce a marriage; and Muslim parents are NOT allowed in Islam to withhold the rights of their daughters.

One could even make out a case for extending the interpretation of the phrase 'burying daughters alive' to refer not only to the desert practice of being rid of infant girls by putting them face down in the sand shortly after birth (rather like drowning baby puppies before they have drawn breath), which hardly applies to our situation today - but the practice of 'burying them alive' in a forced marriage. What could be more like being buried alive than being forced to share a bed and distasteful intimacy with a completely unwanted spouse?”

Maqsood says that child and forced marriage is rather a part of a culture not of the Islamic faith.

Maqsood is joined in his belief by Amany Aboul Fadl Farag, a consultant to the International Islamic Committee For Woman and Child, affiliated with the International Islamic Council for Da'wah and Relief.

She writes on Islam on Line:

“As for girl child marriage, as far as I know the Islamic law has not directed us towards it; I have never come across a rule which dictates the age of marriage. It is left to considerations of time, place, and social norms. In India, for example, both Muslim and Hindu girls marry at the age of ten and below; in some Egyptian rural areas it is the custom of both Muslim and Orthodox Christian parents to marry their girls below fifteen, and the same applies to girls in desert areas such as the Arab Peninsula. But in most urban places all over the Muslim world and among Muslim minorities in Western societies, the established norm for girls is to get married after higher education above the age of twenty.”

“Thus, it becomes clear that the girl child marriage has never been an Islamic proposition, and if there are a few cases of girl child marriage, it is not an Islamic regulation as much as a tradition of certain societies shared by both their Muslim and non-Muslim members.”

“As for forced marriage, there is an article in Islamic marriage law that the girl's consent is a condition for the legality of the marriage contract, without which the contract is null and void. In a story from the life of our Prophet—whose instructions are the second main source of law after the Noble Book of the Qur’an—it is reported that a young woman came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and complained that her father had given her in marriage to a man without her consent. Here, the Prophet (peace be upon him) annulled her marriage. Till this day, the girl's opinion should be heard by the one who registers the marriage contracts. Otherwise, he doesn't register the contract.”

And on the web site of Islamic Voice A. Faizur Rahman argues,

“It is a well known fact that marriage in Islam is a civil contract described as meesaaq by the Quran (4:21), and as such it can be finalized only between persons who are both intellectually and physically mature enough to understand and fulfill the responsibilities of such a contract. This can be clearly understood from the Quranic verse concerning the orphans which commands, “And test the orphans until they reach the age of nikah (marriage), and if you find in them rushdh (maturity of intellect) release their property to them.”(4:6).This verse clearly proves that the age of marriage is the age of majority. Furthermore, if the guardian performs the marriage of a child while he or she is still a minor, Islamic Law gives the minor the option to dissolve the marriage on attaining majority basically to protect the minor from an unscrupulous or undesirable exercise of authority by the guardian. This is known as Khiyar-al-Buloogh or the Option of Puberty and is based on a hadith in Mishkath-al-Masabih wherein Ibn Abbas reports that the Prophet gave a minor girl the option to repudiate her marriage when she informed him that her father had given her in a marriage which was not to her liking. It therefore becomes clear that there is no sanction for child marriage in Islam.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the Fundamentalist Church of the Later Day Saints. Sources: Islam On Line, Islam For Today, RAWA, Amnesty International, IRIN, ABC, Wikipedia, Karamah-Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

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