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Raising age of early marriage law only ‘cosmetic’

By Renad Aljadid - Dec 11,2018 - Last updated at Dec 11,2018

AMMAN — The Lower House on Tuesday endorsed the 2018 amendments to the Civil Status Law which raised the age at which Sharia judges can grant marriage permits to minors from 15 to 16.

Lawyers and legal experts agreed that the amendments were only “cosmetic and ostensive” and will not support efforts to combat the “increasing phenomenon of early marriage”.

They argued that individuals are deprived of several legal powers and rights under the age of 18, including the participation in political life and obtaining drivers’ licences.

Hala Ahed, a lawyer and a human rights activist, said that the previous law allowed marriage exceptions for minors who “completed the age of 15”, while the amended version allows those “who turned 16”, which, she said is “a twist of the same law”.

“Turning 16 means that the law can be applied only one day after the completion of 15, which is basically the same thing with a difference of a few hours, only,” Ahed told The Jordan Times, adding that around 10,000 underage marriages are registered annually under the existing law.

Under the endorsed law, the judge has the authority to decide if tying the knot to girls between 15 and 18 would be in their best interest after ensuring their satisfaction with and approval of the marriage.

Granting the marriage permit also includes provisions that allow only a maximum of a 15-year age difference between the husband and the wife, provided that the would-be husband is not married and that marriage would not prevent the girl from pursuing her education.

The court is also entitled to explain to the girl that she has the right “to place conditions that will be to her benefit”, in addition to offering a mandatory training programme to couples on marriage-related issues and duties.  

Ahed argued that many of these conditions, including her approval and placing conditions, are granted in all marriage contracts, not just underage marriages, claiming that many of these conditions are “not enough and actually ignored in reality”.

Akef Maaytah, a Sharia lawyer, said: “I am completely against the issuance of exceptions to any marriage contracts under the age of 18, but at least the law could have been amended until they complete 16 years old.”

He stressed that girls under 18 are still children by international declarations and their eligibility is partial, adding that early marriage would deprive them education opportunities.

MP Wafaa Bani Musatafa echoed similar remarks, explaining that the amendments “make no legal change at all”.

“I suggested raising the age till girls complete 16 years old and not just turn 16, but the suggestion was not approved,” she told The Jordan Times, adding that the change was only “a manipulation of words”, which made it sound as a response to the calls of activists, but “a deep reading of the law shows the opposite”.

She noted that she and other parliamentary women “will continue the battle to change the law with the Senate”, voicing hope that changes will be made.

Women’s rights activists and concerned civil society organisations issued a petition early this week, calling for several changes to the law, including raising the age of the early marriage exceptions.

“We appreciate the suggestions presented in the petition, but they should have been announced earlier and directly discussed with the MPs,” Bani Mustafa told The Jordan Times. 

In a previous public debate over the law, attended by The Jordan Times, Judge Ashraf Omari from the Chief Islamic Department said that such exceptions came to meet the needs of all people with regard to their cultural and social backgrounds, as well as their economic conditions.

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