Married at 12!

Screenshot of the clip “Saying #IDONT to Child Marriage” by the KAFA association

This staging (click on the link) which revolted all the passers-by present in April 2016 on this seaside in Beirut, sequence shot with actors in hidden camera by the Kafa association (“That’s enough!”, in Arabic), association against violence and exploitation of women in Lebanon, has generated more than 2 million views in just a few months. She wants to denounce the authorization of child marriages which have multiplied in certain regions of Lebanon since the Syrian migratory wave.

“Despite the progress made in our time, denounces in March 2020 the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, 12 million girls are still married each year in their childhood, which causes irreversible damage to their future, to their health. and their well-being. “

Globally, 1 in 5 girls are still forcibly married, and 650 million women today live as having been married as children. This state of affairs is a product of poverty, traditional practices, non-enforcement of laws and the lack of a birth certificate (an estimated 200 million children were not registered at birth) , which then allows an early union, the illegality of the marriage cannot be proven.

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The issue of early marriage, which may seem extremely distant and foreign to our so-called “modern” societies, is in reality unfortunately still very frequent. The doctor and anthropologist Chakib Guessous, specialist in the evolution of traditional unions, who recently published Marriage and cohabitation in Arab countries*, has just published a fascinating and extremely well-documented book on this question: Early Marriage, from Antiquity to the present day**, which allows us to better understand the issues at stake in this type of union, traditional in essence, but unacceptable today.

It is not so far in the West, Chakib Guessous reminds us, “in France, the Civil Code promulgated in 1804 fixed the legal age of marriage at 15 for girls and 18 for boys. It was not until 2006 that the law lowered the legal age of marriage for girls to 18. In Spain, the marital age of girls was not reduced to 18 until 2005, but the judge can still allow a 14-year-old girl to marry… In the United States, New York State comes all just, in 2017, to raise the age of marriage for girls from 14 to 18. The awareness of violence against women – and here against very young girls – is extremely recent. Male domination*** by Pierre Bourdieu, published in 1998, did not really have an impact on the conscience until 10 years later.

Anthropologically speaking, early unions remind us that marriage was never (until the 20th century) a simple union between two people, but the alliance between two human groups, between two communities, two families. Chakib Guessous analyzes very finely the evolution of marriage through civilizations, from Sumer and Babylon to Greece and ancient Rome, then especially in the three great monotheism: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

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Upper Drâa valley, towards Anemzi – photo C. Guessous.

It is between the High and Middle Atlas, in the high valleys of the Drâa, that Chakib Guessous and his wife, the sociologist Soumaya Naamane Guessous, studied in 2017 the very specific case of the rural commune of Anemzi, landlocked for many years. centuries at an altitude of 2500 m, living in extreme poverty and who could only survive at the cost of significant collective solidarity and adherence to strong customary rules around the belief in the descent of a common ancestor.

Cut off from the world, this population follows well-established traditions, in particular for marital union: “They celebrate the nuptials of their children among themselves, sometimes with the presence of a few inhabitants of neighboring hamlets. The union is concluded in a customary way, by why, and concerns boys and girls, most often minors. Boys are usually married between 14 and 17 years old, girls between 10 and 14 years old. Sometimes the spouses are even younger. “And, he specifies:” a girl who would not be married at 14 years old begins to become a matter of concern for his family. At 15, she can no longer hope for a suitor, unless a stranger comes to ask for her hand, which is frowned upon. This is how parents choose between themselves the fiancé or the fiancée of their children when they are still very young. It is a question of patriarchal endogamy in which, a few months or a few years later, the newlywed comes to seek his wife “without celebration or ceremony” if he feels able to support her. If this is not the case or if he no longer wishes to do so, the repudiation allows the wife to marry again. This very particular case allows us to understand the traditional logic of this type of union, here in a population living in destitution and in self-sufficient isolation.

But the great fear of families, in the world of tradition, is the fear of the honor lost if, unfortunately, a relationship was formed out of wedlock. The precocity of the union, before puberty, is thus supposed to prevent these hazards.

Since 2004, in Morocco, the new Family Code (the new Moudawana) has established a marital age of 18, identical for both sexes. Despite this, unions involving minors persist due to the persistence of customary unions among the poorest and least educated populations.

Unfortunately, in many countries customary law often takes precedence over national laws which generally set the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both girls and boys, and many practices continue to accompany these early unions: force-feeding of girls from an early age, so that they appear older and therefore ready for marriage (is still found in Mauritania, Mali and Niger); genital mutilation, Chakib Guessous further specifies, “the eleven countries where, in 2013, more than three women aged 15 to 49 out of four underwent genital mutilation, are all among the countries where child marriage is rife …” ; and forced marriages with a large age gap. Unicef’s actions are permanent but resistance is unfortunately still strong from tradition and a patriarchy that is still too dominant.

The early marriage, by Chakib Guessous is a remarkable work to allow us to understand and overcome one of the most terrible constraints imposed on women, that of their very early union, that is to say before their consent can naturally be exercised. .

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Wednesday January 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Philippe Brenot will be in Brigitte Lahaie’s show on Sud Radio with Chakib Guessous, in the second hour, to talk about the anthropology of virginity and Early Marriage. (Can be listened to in Podcast)

* Marriage and cohabitation in Arab countries, by Chakib Guessous, L’Esprit du Temps, 2018; ** Early Marriage, from Antiquity to the present day, by Chakib Guessous, L’Esprit du Temps, 2020; *** Male domination by Pierre Bourdieu, Seuil, 1998.

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Married at 12!

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