By Malak Mihraje
By Malak Mihraje
Rabat – Salima Dakani, 19, married at 16. She escaped a torturous husband and is now taking refuge at an association in Rabat, which provides shelter as well as employment opportunities.
Salima Dakani says she was only 15 when she married an abusive man with whom she had two children. Dakani claims her husband locked her up and even electrocuted her once until she foamed from the mouth.
“Torture and violence were part of my everyday life,” says Dakani, a resident of Temara. She escaped from her husband many times but returned since, as she puts it, she was not welcomed in her parent’s home.
We met Dakani at an association where she had come for help. L’union de l’Action Feminine (UAF), in Rabat is committed to helping young women in abusive situations find shelter and health care.
The legal marriage age in Morocco is 18 however judges are authorized to approve underage marriages. As a result 12% of marriages in Morocco involve minors as reported by the Justice Ministry. The United Nations reports that in 89% of the cases before them, judges approve the underage marriages.
Fatima Maghnaoui, the president of UAF, claims underage marriages persist in Morocco mainly because families ask judges to approve them for their daughters. “The family code provides the possibility of getting married under the legal age in contradiction with its philosophy, based on gender equality,” states Maghnaoui.
Aziz Nizar, the first substitute for the royal prosecutor in Rabat and an ex judge in the family court of Rashidia and Khnefra, acknowledges this reality, but states that the practice of underage marriages in Morocco is gradually decreasing.
“In big cities like Rabat and Casablanca the family court does not receive more than 100 proposals a year for underage marriages,” said Nizar.
Poverty, illiteracy and lack of structure are among the main causes of underage marriage according to the president of UAF. “Many families go to the judge to marry their daughters off under the pretext of poverty and precarious financial circumstances, though it remains an exceptional reason to authorize an underage marriage for some judges,” says Maghnoui.
Tradition is also a factor, according to Maghnaoui. “When the judge refuses, the solution in many cases is often to marry the child off with a traditional ceremony using the Fatiha,” she said.
Ghizlane Osmane, 28, dropped out of school at the age of 11. When she turned 16, her family asked a judge to allow her marriage to her 20-year old cousin. The judge did not give the necessary approval so Osmane was married according to the Fatiha without court registration. She divorced after a single year of marriage.
“I didn’t want to marry in the first place,” she says. “No girl should be allowed to marry before the age of 18. I had conflicts with both the groom and his family,” says Osmane. “With the family it was mostly about the household. I got scolded by my in laws for things like cooking and cleaning.”
For Nizar the problem lies in people’s attitudes and mentalities.”In some cases, judges are forced to authorize marriages in order to legalize traditional marriages, especially for girls who are already pregnant,” says Nizar.
Maghnaoui shares this view.
“The better off families become, the less they will allow their young daughters to marry before the legal age. To eradicate this phenomenon, serious measures must be taken to encourage development in even the most remote regions, and access to education must be guaranteed,” said Maghnaoui. ‘The government has to put structures in place: schools and information centers and the minimum age of 18 should be strictly enforced. The place of young girls is in school and not in a conjugal household.”
Of course, not all underage marriages result in divorce. Rashida Diani, 27, married when she was only 14 years old. Diani says that for her, marriage has been a peaceful experience that gave her three beloved children, even though she found it difficult to move into a new home at such a young age.
Still, when asked about her opinion Rashida says it is her belief that “no girl should be married under the legal age.” “It isn’t easy” she says, “to take on household responsibilities at such a young age.”
Edited by Sahar Kian. Photo taken by William Matsuda