Gender issues

Moroccan Judges Authorize Marriage of Underage Girls to Avoid “Al Fatiha” Marriages

Amira El Masaiti

Rabat - Judges in Azilal have been authorizing the marriage of minor girls, as a means of protecting them from non-contractual “marriages by Al Fatiha,” found a study carried out by the association “Voice of the Amazigh woman.”

The study, recently published in Rabat under the title “A Diagnosis of the Phenomenon of Minor Girls' Marriage Between Legislation, Jurisprudence, and Practices: Cases of Girls from the Province of Azilal,” aimed to of shed light on the grave issue of minor girls’ marriage in Morocco, particularly in Azilal.

Despite continuous judicial efforts to put an end to child marriage, the researchers highlighted that Morocco is still home to this phenomenon, as young girls are urged by their families to marry by “Al Fatiha” a religious marriage ceremony conducted without a written contract or legal recognition.

This type of marriage, which does not guarantee any of rights to the brides and reveals a “dangerous gap” in the Family Code according to the study, is often used to circumvent the law and violate the provisions of article 16 of the Family Code.

The authors of the study specifically chose to use the term “girls’ marriage,” which they believe best reflects the exact meaning of this phenomenon, instead of the term “minors’ marriage” as enshrined in the Family Code.

Conducted with the support of the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation (ACCD) as part of the project “The phenomenon of girls' marriage in the province of Azilal”, this study indicated that official local and national figures of marriage of registered minors do not reflect the magnitude of this phenomenon, as most of these non contractual marriages are common in the countryside and small towns, or even in some cities.

The study also explained that although article 16 of the Family Code permits that certain cases of girls’ marriage be legalized with the consent of the bride, this possibility is not always valid in the case of conflicts between the woman and her husband.

The researchers argued that such non-contractual marriages result in legal vulnerability of the bride. In the absence of a document proving the couple’s marriage, the girl would be denied her rights, and the husband would be exempt from any legal responsibility towards his children if he chooses not to recognize them as his.

The study also showed that the majority of judges' decisions to allow marriage of minors due to a lack of financial resources of their families, noting that it is an "economic exploitation of this vulnerable social category."

In order to put an end to this scourge, the study proposes several solutions: the immediate abolition of legal provisions authorizing child marriage, the consideration of gender issue awareness in the appointment of judges, the incrimination of diversion  cases, and the strengthening legislative reforms to promote the familial circumstances in various fields, in particular the schooling of children in rural areas.

"The project of the phenomenon of marriage of girls in the province of Azilal" aims to contribute to the fight against the marriage of minors, to strengthen their rights and to sensitize families and the population of this province to the necessity to postpone the marriage until the age of 18.

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