Sudan – Court Revokes Marriage of 11-Year-Old Girl, But Child Marriage Persists
Date: September 12, 2018
“Religious leaders in Sudan strongly oppose any amendments to the Personal Status Law for Muslims, especially changing the minimum age of marriage.”
By Murtada Ahmed – 7Dnews Khartoum
July 25, 2018 – Rahma “the name means mercy” is an 11-year-old Sudanese girl who was given away in marriage to a 38-year-old man in January of this year. She could not stand the beating and torture of her husband, and she sought protection from the police. A Khartoum court revoked her marriage on Sunday, July 22nd.
Alfatih Hussein, Rahma’s lawyer, said the grounds for the court verdict is the fact that Rahma is a minor and was married off without the court’s permission, in violation of Article 40 of the Sudanese Personal Status Law. Her father admitted that his daughter’s marriage was carried out without the court’s authorisation.
He said the court ordered her father to treat her well, and placed a restraining order on the husband, in addition to investigating the cleric who completed the marriage contract.
According to Hussein, Rahma told the judge that she did not want to get married. She said her husband had beaten her up and she went to the closest child protection unit seeking help.
Rahma is not the only victim of child marriage in Sudan. Sudan’s Household Survey in 2010 states that 38% of women in Sudan were married or in union before the age of 18. UNICEF’s latest statistics suggest that 33% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 have been married or in union by the age of 18.
Relentless efforts to end child marriage challenged by societal perceptions and religious authority
Sudan’s Personal Status Law for Muslims (1991) has come under huge criticism from civil society for legalising child marriage at the age of 10 and denying women consent in marriage. Reform efforts are hampered by the traditions of society and the views of religious leaders.
Nahed Jabrallah, the director of the SEEMA Centre who closely followed Rahma’s case said, “Rahma was beaten and tied to a bed. She got pregnant, lost it and bled extensively. She came to the child protection unit in May”.
Jabrallah said Rahma’s court decision was historic. She added that civil society will continue to expose child marriage in Sudan and mobilise local communities against its practice.
Asha Alkarib, the head of the Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development, thinks the court decision in Rahma’s case is an isolated incident and is unlikely to bring any change to the status of child brides in Sudan. She warned of the consequences of revoking the marriage contract: “Revoking a marriage contract creates more problems, especially if the child bride got pregnant and there are infants from this relationship. What would be their legal situation?”
Alkarib said that although child marriage is not new to Sudanese society, the phenomenon has been on the rise during the past two decades. She argued that there are several factors contributing to this increase. She said, “There are economic factors and widespread poverty. The closure of girls’ boarding schools which persuaded some families to stop sending their daughters to school and marrying them off instead. Most importantly, the legalisation of child marriage in articles 40 and 41 of the Personal Status Law for Muslims of 1991, which allows the marriage of girls of 10 years with the approval of the court”.
Alkarib said that her organization had prepared a draft bill for the personal status law in 2010, but its proposed terms were not accepted at that time. In the past two years, however, the draft began to win approval from the National Council for Childhood and the Ministry of Justice. Both institutions agreed that minimum age of marriage should be 18.
She said efforts to amend the law still collide with people in parliament who reject the idea of setting the marriage age at 18 years, so they will wait until the draft bill gains more parliamentary support to ensure it will not be rejected by an opposition majority.
Parliamentarians propose amendments to the personal status law for Muslims 1991
Suhair Ahmed Salah, a Member of Parliament for the Popular Congress Party, said the women’s group in parliament has prepared a draft to amend the personal status law for Muslims and this will be submitted for review during the next parliamentary session, scheduled for October.
Salah told 7Dnews that the proposed amendments include the criminalisation of forced marriage, and for a woman’s consent to be mandatory and that the minimum age for marriage should be identified as the age of maturity, although she said the age of maturity differs from person to person. She added, “According to our progressive Islamic movement, a woman may exceed the age of 26 but may still have not reached maturity”. The age of maturity remains unidentified according to Salah’s statement.
Salah said they have consulted various entities in Sudan on amending the personal status bill, including progressive clerics in the Sudan Scholar Corporation. She said, “A consensus has been reached on the amendments. Legal amendments alone are not sufficient to eliminate child marriage, the societal perception must be changed”.
Religious leaders in Sudan strongly oppose any amendments to the Personal Status Law for Muslims, especially changing the minimum age of marriage.
Girls should marry after puberty, says Sudanese cleric, Dr Mohammed Osman Saleh, the head of the Sudan Scholars Corporation (formal religious authority). He said they do not recognise the United Nations definition of a minor girl as one under the age of 18 years, and described the definition as wrong, misleading and contradictory to Islamic teachings.
Saleh told 7Dnews that they support the marriage of any girl after she reaches puberty in order to prevent her from committing sins and having premarital relations. He said, “When girls hit puberty, they will have a strong libido and will certainly fall into sin. It is better to marry them off, if they want to,” he said.
He added “We also support the marriage of girls before they hit puberty, but under strict conditions approved by a judge and without coercion.”
Saleh said his group would strongly oppose any move to pass legislation that prohibits the marriage of persons under the age of 18 years and will hold the legislators responsible for defying Islamic law.