The photos of a young Egyptian couple – Omar, 12 and Gharam, 11, during their engagement ceremony has caused outrage among child and women’s rights activists.
At his eldest son’s wedding, held in a province about 75 miles north of Cairo, Nasser Hassan decided to “double the joy,” by getting his 12-year-old son getting engaged to his 11-year-old cousin.
The photos prompted Reda Eldanbouki, the head of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, to report the incident to the National Center for Childhood and Motherhood, a government agency. He also filed a complaint with the attorney general to investigate the incident and hold the parents accountable for this ‘crime’, he said in a statement. The engagement of Omar and Gharam “will only lead to an early marriage in which the girl will be deprived of equal chances to education, growth, and will isolate her from social spheres,” he said.
But according to the guests, there was “nothing inappropriate,” as reported by Egypt’s Al Watan newspaper. Omar’s father, faced with the backlash of his decision, told local newspapers that he “is a free man and did nothing wrong.” He defended the engagement, saying that “Omar has always loved Gharam so much that he used to say he will marry her when they grow up.” He added that both children acted “beyond their years” and developed “strong feelings for each other” through Facebook and other social media and “wanted to get engaged.”
That’s why, Omar’s father said, he decided to announce their engagement now “before any other man asks for her hand in marriage when she is older”. He insisted, “They will get married when they reach the legal age.”
Egyptian laws prohibit official registration for marriages for anyone under the age of 18. But the practice remains prevalent. According to UNICEF, 17 per cent of Egyptian girls are married before the age of 18, the vast majority of the unions taking place in rural areas.
Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, has repeatedly urged state institutions to make concerted efforts to stop marriages among minors. But that has either had little effect in many areas or has spawned efforts to manipulate the law. In Egypt’s rural areas, families marry off their children but usually delay the official registration of the marriage until the couples reach the lawful age of matrimony to avoid legal punishment. As a consequence, any children born of the marriage will not be issued birth certificates or be recognised until then, legal experts say.
This article originally appeared on Washington Post.