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Child marriage: legalised rape?

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Child marriage is a hot topic in the Arab world at the moment – as the amount of discussion on social media shows.“Child marriage is a form of rape that is not recognised by the legislature. The criminal remains at large while the voice of the victim isn't heard.” “Pedophilia is illegal under Iraqi law, while religion and tradition glorify it”. 

It’s commonly believed that forced and child marriage are most common in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt, but there was surprising news recently: Iraq is one of the worst offenders amongst Arab countries. last week. The Iraqi minister of planning and cooperative development, Ali Shukri, said in an interview that “even in Iraq, 11% of women marry before they turn 18. The pregnancy of minors causes important health problems in the country.” For the minister, the solution would be “a UN resolution, in order to control the worldwide rise of the population and to set a minimum age for marriage”. “What does this mean [though]?” a journalist asked him on Facebook. “Should child marriage be subject to Chapter VII for example?” 

The situation is similar across the Arab world. But, in Sudan for example, the number of child marriages keeps on rising because family law doesn't protect women, and some fatwas [legal advice based on Islamic law] support the marriage of girls who have not even reached their teens.

TV series
An Egyptian TV series called Burying Girls Alive, shown on one of the satellite channels during Ramadan, has brought the discussion about child marriage into the open. It illustrates the problem by showing an old man simply buying his teenage bride and taking advantage of poverty and ignorance.

Child marriage takes place either in the name of religion or because of financial problems and is a problem that afflicts a large segment of the population in Arab societies. Young girls are the victims, but they often only realise the true harshness of their lives when they wake up as young, divorced mothers before they turn twenty.

Mixed reactions
An old man marrying a girl who could be his granddaughter and hoping to marry even more young girls. Images of the dead corpse of a bride in a bloodstained wedding dress, not even 9 years old and brutally violated. Such scenes have evoked strong reactions, with some viewers questioning how the makers could justify using such young actresses for these roles.

The series has caused massive controversy and discussion on Twitter and Facebook from its first episode. Some condemn it with reactions such as:  “I want to know what kind of sick person is able to watch this series!!” and “This series is not appropriate for children. My daughter saw the first episode and she's asking questions I can't answer.”

Others, however, recognise the importance of the series’ subject: “My entire body trembles after seeing this, even if this nightmare is only a reality for some of us” or “The series tells a story that can't be ignored. Between and because of money and desire, young girls lose their futures.”

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011 Dutch government’s decided to cut funding and shift RNW in 2013 from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW’s current activities can be found at http://www.rnw.org/about-rnw