Paris – Child Marriage in Morocco remains a grave societal issue. Despite the country’s attempts to end the practice through reforms of its legal code with Articles 20 and 21 in 2004, child marriage has not seen a significant decrease compared to pre-reform statistics and indeed continues to plague Moroccan society.
The family code, the Moudawana, which was approved in 2004 by the Moroccan parliament, represented a turning point in reforming the country’s legal discrimination towards women and girls by allowing them equal rights to their male counterparts in regards to marriage and child rights. The code raised the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 18, granted women the right to initiate divorce procedures and amended the laws surrounding women requiring guardianship from a male family member.
However, despite these reforms, judges have authorized multiple child marriages due to flaws in the justice system allowing them discretion when marrying minor girls, under the grounds that the girl’s rights must be preserved, while at the same time protecting their family’s reputation and integrity. According to the Moroccan High Commission of Planning (HCP), in 2014, the number of minors married before the age of 18 was 48,291, a slight decrease from 2004’s figures which showed 55,379 girls married under the legal age. Currently, girls make up 94.8 percent of all child marriages in Morocco out of the current 45,786 married minors, with almost one-third of married minors already parent to at least one child. Furthermore, women and girls who have been victims of rape, child abuse, domestic violence and sexual exploitation have had their rights constrained due to inadequate knowledge of their legal rights, cultural traditions and lack of education.
With many families receiving ‘legal’ waivers from judges, in rural areas including rich and poor parts of Morocco, minors are forced into religious marriages that often remain unregistered and therefore escape the census. This is due to a mixture of cultural and religious norms surrounding a family’s decision to marry off their young. Other factors include limited economic opportunities for girls and women, meaning their families see them as a financial burden and marriage alleviates the family’s expenditures while at the same time providing financial security to the bride. Another perceived benefit of underage marriage is the belief that early marriage prevents premarital sex and the result of illegitimate offspring -an attempt to maintain the family’s reputation.
Several reports have indicated the psychological, physical and sexual violence girls experience by their husbands. Before 2014, Article 475 of Morocco’s Penal Code gave impunity to rapists by allowing them to marry their victims, even if they were under the legal age of marriage. A tragic story of 16 year old Amina El Filali, who was forced against her will to marry the man who raped her spent six months married to her husband. She endured repeated physical abuse, deprived of food and was regularly insulted by her husband, after ongoing relentless suffering she committed suicide.
2018 saw the announcement of a new law designed to tackle violence against women and girls – an encouraging move towards establishing specific legal terms and descriptions of criminal acts concerning violence against women such as: physical abuse, harassment and sexual exploitation. However, the law failed to concretely address child marriage and inter-marital violence which many married minors experience from their espouse.
Minimizing and abolishing child marriage requires educating and raising awareness amongst the Moroccan youth, society and prominent members within the community. The “Droits et Justice” (D&J) organization in Morocco launched a campaign called “Combating Child Marriage in Morocco,” dedicated to raising awareness about child marriage and its affect on thousands of minors in various rural areas of Morocco. Some of the campaign activities D&J have undertaken include, awareness sessions for minors aged 13-18 years old, sex education training for young girls and boys, acquainting religious leaders and adults with the repercussions of child marriage, and highlighting the various cultural and religious misconceptions that are causing the serious rise in child marriage throughout Morocco.
In addition, “D&J” are strenuously lobbying parliament to amend current laws that are forcing thousands of underage children into wedlock. The organization has launched multiple media campaigns with reputable public figures and a strong network of NGOs. Reform has been advocated through public debates and meetings with parliament and decision makers. They have also created awareness amongst judges responsible for approving child marriage requests and encouraged them to apply an improved rule of law that takes into consideration the effects and repercussions on minors.
Whilst organizations like “Droits et Justice” are constructive and important to ending child and forced marriage, the Moroccan parliament and government have a significant role in ensuring children are protected. This means signing article 21 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which strictly prohibits child marriage. Additionally, Morocco must revise its current Family Code, and initiate policy plans that foster an effective child protection system whereby children can be safeguarded in a protective environment whilst conforming to national and international standards. Moreover, Morocco must fulfill its promise of eliminating child and forced marriage by 2030 to ensure an end to the current and future suffering of children within its jurisdiction and instead focus on the protection of the country’s children and providing them with a prosperous and bright future.