Forced Marriage Overseas: Egypt
Individuals from the United States may face serious hurdles and risks if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriage situations in Egypt. Since the revolution of 2011 and turbulent political events that have occurred in its wake, incidents of gender-based violence have increased. Some experts argue that Egypt is one of the worst countries for women’s rights in the Arab world,1 and even with a new constitution,2 women and girls continue to experience widespread violence and generally be unprotected by the law.3
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Egypt, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Egypt
Egyptian girls and women have very few rights in marriage and limited protection within the legal system. Marriage in Egypt is governed by various mainly religious-based laws, with the Muslim majority (and certain other groups) subject to Egyptian Personal Law, based on Shari’ah.4 Women cannot freely marry without the permission of a male guardian, and are often excluded from marriage negotiations.5 In 2008, the age of consent was raised to 18 by an amendment to Egypt’s child protection laws.6 In spite of this law, this age requirement is often not followed,7 and NGO and government agencies report high rates of underage marriage, from 17-38%, across different regions of the country.8 Enforcement of the laws against underage marriage declined in tandem with the general decline in law enforcement capacity after the January 2011 revolution. There are no laws criminalizing forced marriage.
It is much more difficult for women than men to dissolve a marriage in Egypt. Women must navigate a complex, burdensome, discriminatory, and costly system to end their marriages, and ultimately choose between a protracted fault-based divorce that allows them to retain their financial rights (including access to alimony and child-support payments) or a swifter divorce predicated on the abandonment of these rights. A woman seeking divorce, even for reasons of domestic violence, must first submit to compulsory mediation in the name of family preservation.9
Recently there have been increasing reports of Coptic women and girls being abducted in Egypt, and forced into marriage and to convert to Islam, with little government action in response. Certain practices also place women and girls at risk of exploitations and forced marriage in Egypt, including use of urfi contracts (informal agreements where marriage is recognized by the community but not the state), depriving the woman or girl of legal rights,10 and zawag el-safka marriage (known locally as transactional or “summer” marriages) which usually involve an older man who pays for the right to temporarily marry an underage girl.11 According to one source, thousands of poor, rural girls between the ages of 11 and 18 are sold each year by their parents to much older, wealthy Gulf Arab men in such marriages.12
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
In Egypt, it is highly unlikely that individuals facing forced marriages could access adequate protections. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, and NGOs report that police often treat domestic violence as a family rather than criminal matter. While rape is a crime, Egyptian police do not effectively enforce laws against sexual violence,13 with particular problems occurring during the 2013 protests, as mobs sexually assaulted and raped girls and women in Tahrir Square without intervention by authorities.14
There are NGOs and some government agencies offering services to women and girls who are victims of violence, but it is uncertain whether they may be able to provide assistance in forced marriage situations.
Of note, in Egypt, the only legal marriage proceeding for foreigners is a civil ceremony performed at the local marriage court, and a marriage affidavit must be notarized by the U.S. Embassy (among other authorities).15 This affidavit requirement may create an opportunity for U.S. citizens to meet with U.S. Embassy staff, and request assistance, if they are facing a forced marriage situation.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Individuals from the United States that are fleeing forced marriage situations in Egypt may face some obstacles when trying to leave the county. Unmarried women under the age of 21 generally must obtain permission from their fathers to obtain passports and to travel outside the country, though there have been reports of these requirements also being imposed on older women who are unmarried.16 Authorities may require proof that children of Egyptian fathers have their fathers’ approval to leave Egypt before the children are allowed to exit the country.17 Please check the entry and exit requirements for Egypt for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Egypt, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist US citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. As noted above, the continued political instability in country may limit consular staff’s ability to provide assistance during demonstrations or other security disruptions. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Egypt.
- U.S. Embassy Cairo
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
Tel: (20-2) 2797 3300
1 Egypt ‘worst for women’ out of 22 countries in Arab world, BBC News (November 12, 2013), available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24908109.
2 Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Articles 11, 52, 62, and 93, unofficial English translations available online at http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/20131206EgyptConstitution_Dec.pdf.pdf and http://www.ncwegypt.com/index.php/en/media-centre/ncw-news/147-ncw-s-stand-with-regards-to-the-current-events-and-issues/1164-republic-of-egypt-draft-constitution-2013 (last visited January 23, 2014).
3 Amnesty International, Annual Report: Egypt 2013, available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-egypt-2013?page=show.
4 Personal Status Laws in Egypt, Promotion of Women’s Rights, Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH, available at http://www2.gtz.de/dokumente/bib-2010/gtz2010-0139en-faq-personal-status-law-egypt.pdf (last visited July 29, 2014).
5 Human Rights Watch, Divorced from Justice: Women’s Unequal Access to Divorce in Egypt (2004), at 16-17, available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/egypt1204/index.htm.
6 Law No. 12 OF 1996 Promulgating the Child Law Amended by Law no. 126 of 2008: The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.
7 Sarah El Masry, Under-reported and underage: Early marriage in Egypt (December 5, 2012), available at http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2012/12/05/under-reported-and-underage-early-marriage-in-egypt/#sthash.BiFP4HkJ.dpuf (last visited March 27, 2014).
8 UNICEF, Regional Overview for the Middle East and North Africa (2011), available at http://www.unicef.org/gender/files/REGIONAL-Gender-Eqaulity-Profile-2011.pdf (last visited July 30, 2014); Sarah El Masry, Under-reported and underage: Early marriage in Egypt (December 5, 2012), available at http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2012/12/05/under-reported-and-underage-early-marriage-in-egypt/#sthash.BiFP4HkJ.dpuf (last visited March 27, 2014); Human Rights Watch, Divorced from Justice: Women’s Unequal Access to Divorce in Egypt (2004), at 16-17, available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/egypt1204/index.htm; Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, Report on Egyptian Women Conditions in 2012 (2012), available at http://ecwronline.org/blog/2013/01/22/egyptian-woman-conditions-in-2012/, (last visited January 22, 2014).
9 Gabriel Sawma, Islamic Women Divorce Laws in Egypt (September 20, 2011), available at http://gabrielsawma.blogspot.com/2011/09/islamic-women-divorce-laws-in-egypt.html (last visited March 27, 2014).
10 Christian Solidarity International, The Disappearance, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt (2009); Venn Institute, Egypt: Uptick in Abductions, Forced Marriages and Conversions (August 28, 2013), available at http://www.venninstitute.org/oped/egypt-uptick-in-abductions-forced-marriages-and-conversions#sthash.U17XtoA6.dpuf (last visited March 27, 2014).
11 Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2012 Human Rights Report: Egypt (2012), available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012/nea/204357.htm (last visited January 21, 2014).
12 Cam McGrath, Underage Girls are Egypt’s Summer Rentals, Inter Press Service (2013), available at http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/underage-girls-are-egypts-summer-rentals/ (last visited May 8, 2014).
13 Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2012 Human Rights Report: Egypt (2012), available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012/nea/204357.htm (last visited January 21, 2104).
14 Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Epidemic of Sexual Violence (2013), available at http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/03/egypt-epidemic-sexual-violence.
15 United States Department of State, Egypt Country Information, available at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/egypt.html (last visited January 21, 2014).
16 Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2012 Human Rights Report: Egypt (2012), available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012/nea/204357.htm (last visited January 21, 2104).
17 Government of Australia Travel Advisory, Egypt, available at http://smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Egypt (last visited March 26, 2014).