Early marriage in Egypt, marriage before reaching the age of 18, is largely motivated by concrete traditions linked to honor and shame, according to research conducted by El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
The research, published November 2013, explores the relationship between early marriage and poverty, education, and the age of the parents when they were married. It also looks at how people deal with the issue of early marriage and the future of Egyptian women.
The center said the high prevalence of early marriages in Egypt was especially worrying with the rise of Islamists after the January 25 Revolution and the subsequent discussions where amendments to the law regulating marriage were proposed by conservatives.
The research is based on the findings of a 1091 sample survey around 15 governorates in Egypt. 58 percent of the survey questionnaires were distributed in urban areas and 42 percent in rural areas. The survey was conducted with young unmarried girls and boys, mothers, and fathers.
46 percent of the participants were women and 36 percent were men. 34 percent of the participants were aged between 20 and 30. 48 percent of the participants were married and 10 percent were engaged, widowed or divorced, according to the research.
The center said the results of the survey indicated that early marriage has significant physical and psychological consequences on the professional life, pregnancy, and sexual relationships of those it affects.
88 percent of participants said girls who got married early face problems with pregnancy and giving birth. 88 percent also believed early marriage would negatively affect the girl’s education, while 68 percent said it could decrease her chances of employment.
The center said 85.2 percent of mothers who were married before the age of 18, chose differently for their daughters. The mothers said they needed to ensure their daughters complete their education, and are physically and mentally mature and responsible before allowing them to get married.
The majority of surveyed participants, regardless of background, preferred the age of marriage to be over 21 and not less than 18. Maturity, responsibility, traditions, and education were all factors identified by the participants as influencing their preferred marriage age.
Regarding the motives behind early marriage, the research suggested the term sotra, which means “being protected and supported by a man” or “preventing a girl from lewdness and the talk of people,” played a significant role.
The majority of the girls who were surveyed about the reasons for marrying early cited sotra and the protection of honor.
The research further explained the traditional concept of sotra saying, “A girl is expected to bring shame to her family since every man’s honor in the family is associated with her behavior…She is identified in a family context, either as a daughter, mother, or wife; rather than as an individual.”
Participants also identified social pressure, fear of loneliness, fear of menopause, traditions, and characteristics of potential mates as motives for marriage.
The research recommended stakeholders to take it upon themselves to highlight the issue of early marriage, increase awareness about it around their communities, and stress the importance of education. The research also called on laws regarding children to be amended to specify punishments for those involved in early marriages.
The Nadeem center was established as a non-governmental and non-profit organization in 1993 and defines its mission as “seeking to eliminate the phenomenon of violence and torture in all its forms whoever the victims or the offenders are.”