Jordan: Rights group launches drive to curb early marriage

WUNRN via The AGENDA Feminist Media Project
A leading Jordanian rights group has launched the country's first ever public campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of early marriage.
“We need to educate people about the negative consequences of the practice on girls, from both the physical effects to deeper emotional scars," said Firas Azar, president of the Mizan Law Group for Human Rights, an NGO that extends legal aid to vulnerable women.
An amendment of the personal status law in late 2004 brought the legal age for marriage up from 15 to 18. However, a clause in the law still permits judges to sanction child marriages at their discretion.

“The tragedy is when someone gets married at 15 and years later realises she had no say in the marriage,” noted Azar. “As well as the detrimental effect this has on her life and education.”

According to UN children’s fund UNICEF, the practice is considered a human rights violation. The organisation has noted that child marriages often result in the denial of education and health problems related to premature pregnancies, which in turn lead to high rates of maternal and infant mortality, as well as frequent physical and emotional abuses.

The government says that the enforcement of more liberal laws, the expansion of schooling and economic growth have all combined to bolster the status of women and helped reduce early marriages among the country's approximately 961,000 families.

Nevertheless, girls – some as young as 11 years-old – are still being married off, particularly in rural and tribal areas. The majority are aged between 15 and 18.

There are no figures available on the numbers of child marriages taking place every year.

While economic and social progress has helped reduce underage marriage over the last two decades, Asma Khader, founder of the Mizan group and prominent woman's rights activist, said that the exception clause in the current law was widely abused.

Mizan’s public awareness drive is to last until the end of this year.

A campaign poster bearing the caption “Know your rights and then you can protect yourself” depicts a desperate-looking young girl wearing a white wedding dress, with both hands raised in submission.

"No to health and emotional damage by marriages under 18 years-old," the poster in reads Arabic.

IRIN, 9 Feb 2006