Married 60 times before age 18 in Egypt

The Washington Post had a religion news blog item last week headlined, horrifyingly, “‘Some girls have been married 60 times by the time they turn 18′.”

The story somewhat conflates marriage of young women with the epidemic of children sold into marriage. I also worried about the veracity of the statistics and the context in which some claims were made about pregnancy health. But let’s go on into the religion angle:

But some girls who grow up in Egypt’s poor rural communities face an even scarier sort of child marriage: the temporary kind. Sex tourism to Egypt tends to spike in the summer, when wealthy men from Gulf countries flood into Egypt and thousands of underage girls are sold by their parents into temporary “marriages,” according to a story by Inter Press Service

Egypt’s illegal child sex tourism trade appears to have put a regional-friendly spin on the practice by portraying the buying and selling of children as a form of marriage, thus giving them a thin veneer of religious acceptability by circumventing Islamic rules against pre-marital sex. (Despite a 2008 law banning child marriages, enforcement is thought to be low and an Egyptian official told the Inter Press Service that’s it’s nearly ceased since the chaos of the 2011 revolution.) Child marriages are, after all, somewhat common in Arab countries, although not nearly as common as in neighboring regions. And such child marriages often involve “dowries” that human trafficking activists say are akin to a purchase price.

Indeed this is a religion story, but one that might be made valuable by a little bit more exploration into that angle.

Temporary marriage, or Nikah mut‘ah, is a major issue of contention in Islam. Muslims tend to agree that temporary marriage was instituted by Mohammed and practiced in Islam’s initial period. Sunni Muslims, however, believe it was later abolished while Shiite Muslims do not. These temporary marriages aren’t supposed to last less than three days but they’re of a short-term variety.

Almost all Egyptian Muslims are Sunni, however. So this would not be the religious teaching in play. Are these regional-friendly spins playing into Sunni understanding of temporary marriage? What, exactly, are those views? We’re not told. But as an initial starting point, a few entries from Wikipedia:

Nikah al-Misyar (“traveller’s marriage”) is a Nikah (marriage) carried out via the normal contractual procedure, with the specificity that the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives in cases of polygyny, the wife’s rights to housing, and maintenance money (nafaqa), and the husband’s right of homekeeping, and access etc.[1]

Nikah ‘urfi is a kind of Muslim marriage. It is similar to the Nikah ceremony. An ‘urfi marriage is a marriage without an official contract. Couples repeat the words, “We got married” and pledge commitment before God. Usually a paper, stating that the two are married, is written and two witnesses sign it. Most Islamic countries do not recognize ‘Urfi marriages and no partner can get a ‘legal’ divorce since the government does not recognize the legality of the marriage in the first place.[citation needed]

Citation needed indeed!

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