Child Marriage in the Muslim World
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In many Islamic countries and around the world, child marriages are common practice. Girls below the age of 18, and often far below the age of puberty are forcibly married to older persons (sometimes in their 50s and later), often for various personal gains by the girls' guardian or with the intention to preserve family honor by helping her avoid pre-marital sex.
Islamic law permits child marriage. Jurists agreed that a father may compel his pre-pubescent virgin daughter to enter into a marriage contract. The family was to hand her over for consummation when they judged her physically able to withstand intercourse without physical harm rather than being linked to a particular age. See the article Forced Marriage for more detail and for sources of help for those at risk.
The prevalence of child marriage involving under 18s is decreasing globally, but is still widespread according to Unicef, affecting millions of girls annually, as well as boys to a much lesser extent. According to Unicef, "Many factors interact to place a child at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honor, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system." Data available on their website indicates that marriage of girls under 18 and under 15 is common in many predominantly Muslim countries, and similarly in many predominantly Christian countries in Africa, in India (among Hindus as well as Muslims) and to a lesser extent in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Civil laws to introduce protections against child marriage have sometimes faced opposition on traditional Islamic grounds. The practice also exists on a much smaller scale among Muslim populations in some non-Muslim countries such as the United Kingdom, where hundreds of girls under the age of 18 are taken overseas to be forcibly married each year (as well as young adults; the Hanafi and Hanbali schools of Islamic law require consent before post-pubescent virgins are given in marriage, though such rules are often flouted).
Today, many modern Muslim countries have legislated to raise the minimum age of marriage, in many cases to the age of 16 or 18 for girls (though often with loopholes or with ineffective enforcement) and to prevent forced marriage, often in the face of opposition from Islamic scholars. Many Muslim campaign groups and charities have been involved in this process and continue to offer help to those at risk (see the article Forced Marriage which includes sources of help). In collaboration with activists, in 2019 the deputy Grand Imam of al-Azhar University in Cairo issued a fatwa calling for marriage based on mutual consent with a minimum age set as 18.
PLEASE NOTE: The information below dates to the first decade of the 21st century. For more up to date information on the prevalence of child marriage compiled by Unicef, see here. A number of countries have since taken steps to raise the minimum age of marriage. For information on this see the table on the Wikipedia page Marriageable Age.
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A Unicef study from 2000 to 2008 found that more than 43 per cent of women in Afghanistan were married under age, some before puberty.In 2009 Human Rights Watch and Unifem, a UN agency, classified 57 per cent of all brides as under age, which is below 16. Despite the changes in the state law, not much seems to have changed since then
93% of Azerbaijan's population identify as Muslim.
Women’s rights activists say corrupt religious officials are prepared to conduct Islamic ceremonies for couples when the woman is too young for a state service, leaving her unprotected if her husband leaves her, uneducated and vulnerable to medical complications.
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In Khachmaz, a city near Azerbaijan’s border with Russia, of 2,500 pupils in their final year of school, almost 130 girls were not attending since they had already married. The headmaster, she said, took no action, although education is compulsory.But her organisation’s research shows that the problem of young marriages is most pronounced in the southern regions bordering Iran.
According to an article in the Toronto Sun, Muslim child brides in Canada are on the rise:
Top immigration officials in Canada and Pakistan say all they can do is reject the sponsorships of husbands trying to bring their child-brides to Canada. The men have to reapply when the bride turns 16. The marriages are permitted under Sharia Law.
Muslim men, who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents return to their homeland to wed a “child bride” in an arranged marriage in which a dowry is given to the girl’s parents. Officials said some of the brides can be 14 years old or younger and are “forced” to marry. The practice occurs in a host of countries including: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Not valid in Canada
Canadian visa officer Steve Bulmer said in classified documents he refused to allow one Pakistani man to sponsor his 15-year-old bride in August 2009.
“I can find no section (of law) that states the marriage is ‘invalid’ or ‘void,” Bulmer wrote in e-mails obtained by lawyer Richard Kurland under Access of Information. “I am afraid the age does not invalidate the marriage even if it is illegal to marry.”
Abdul Hameed, of the Canadian embassy in Islamabad, said child marriages are not valid in Canada.
“A child marriage is punishable but it does not render the marriage invalid,” Hameed said. “We are refusing such application on grounds the marriage will not be valid as per Canadian laws.”
William Hawke, of immigration’s Permanent Resident Unit, said the young brides won’t be allowed in Canada.“Sponsorship applications submitted for a spouse under 16 will be refused,” he said.
The first federal study of its kind found 3,443 recorded cases in 2008 - the most recent year with sufficient data - in which people living in Germany were forced to wed or threatened with a forced marriage.
Most were between the ages of 18 and 21, although nearly a third of them were under the age of 17.
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The data shows that 32 girls under the age of 10 and 445 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 went through this testing in 2009 alone in preparation for marriage!What is also significant is that this phenomenon is taking place in the more developed states in Malaysia, with the highest numbers recorded in Penang (195), Malacca (103) and Johor (87).
This goes against the assumption that child marriages are now on the decline due to changing cultural trends.
Last year , 49 Muslim girls under 16 years of age and 39 boys under 18 tied the knot.
According to the statistics provided by the Federal Territory Religious Department, this number was higher compared with the previous year.
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In 2008, 40 girls and 28 boys below the permitted age registered their marriages.
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According to figures from the justice ministry, over 31,000 under-age girls were married in 2008, compared with 29,847 in 2007.
The consequences have been devastating. Nigeria has the highest maternal mortality rate in Africa and one of the world’s highest rates of fistula, a condition that can occur when the pressure of childbirth tears a hole between the vagina and the bladder or rectum. Many women are left incontinent for life. Up to 800,000 women suffer from fistula in Nigeria.
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Dr Waaldijk operates on up to 600 women a year, with no electricity or running water... Some have been divorced by their husbands - it is estimated that up to half of adolescent girls in northern Nigeria are divorced... The Nigerian federal Government has attempted to outlaw child marriage. In 2003 it passed the Child Rights Act, prohibiting marriage under the age of 18. In the Muslim northern states, though, there has been fierce resistance to the Act, with many people portraying it as antiIslamic.
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Half of Nigeria’s 36 states have passed the Act, but it has been adopted by only one of the dozen Muslim states - and even that one made a crucial amendment substituting the age of 18 for the term “puberty”.
Palestinian Authority area
Local human rights organizations are deeply concerned about child marriage in Palestinian society. Participants of a conference in Gaza dedicated to this issue in January 2008, organized by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), warned of the “significant rise in child marriage rate” and its severe psychological and physical implications on the youth.
They typically marry in religious ceremonies and delay civil marriage until they’re of age, according to the foundation. "As long as you have people in Turkey who say this is okay and who use Islam to justify it, it remains a big problem," says Amanda Akçakoca, an analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels.
More than 770 suspected cases were reported to the Forced Marriage Unit this year, up from 152 in 2005.
If the trend continues, by the end of this year more than 1,540 Britons will have been coerced into a marriage they do not want to enter - an increase of more than 913 per cent.
The practice affects mainly young Asian women, with more than a third of cases involving those aged under 18. One in six victims are under 16.Advisors said they are dealing with hundreds of schoolchildren who have confided to teachers that they fear they will be taken abroad in the summer holidays and forced to marry.
But following the approving of the law by Parliament, thousands of conservative Yemeni women actually demonstrated outside parliament last month to protest the implementation of a minimum marriageable age [They were holding up copies of the Qur'an while stating that the proposed law is un-Islamic]. Because of the opposition to the proposed law, it did not come into force. Had that law been approved, parents of children involved in child (underaged) marriage could be fined $500 or jailed for a year.
Traditional Islamic Justification
Permitted in the Qur'an
Traditional Quran commentators and jurists have been essentially unanimous that child marriages are permitted in the Qur'an.
The term "courses" mentioned above (indicated in bold italic text) is most accurately translated as "menstruation", which is the exact meaning of the Arabic word used in that context (i.e. 'Yaĥiđna يَحِضْنَ).
Permitted by Muslim Scholars
We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls. We should know that Shariah law has not brought injustice to women.
There are many Ahadith which confirm that marriage at an early age was widespread among the companions and no one denied its permissibility. Getting married at an early age was not peculiar to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) as some people think, but it was general for him and for his Ummah.
The following are some of the actions of the Sahaba (companions):
1. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, married his daughter, Um Kulthum to Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, and she mothered a child before the death of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam). Omar got married to her while she was young before reaching the age of puberty. This is reported by Ibn Saad in 'Al-Tabaqat'.
2. From Urwa Ibn Zubair: that Zubair, may Allah be pleased with him, married his daughter when she was very young. Reported by Saeed Ibn Mansour, in his Sunnah, and Ibn Abi Shaibah, in Al-musannaf, with a Sahih chain of narration.
Al-Shafie said in the book of Al-Um: "Many companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) married their daughters while these were still young."
Delaying the marriage of girls in many Muslim countries is something new and contradictory to what Muslims used to do over many centuries. This is because of westernization and the application of man-made laws. This caused a change in understandings and customs within a considerable number of the population, and it is absolutely not permissible to consider the customs and traditions in a given country as the standard by which people abide, and fail to obey the absolute evidences of Shariah.
In some Muslim countries, the marriage for girls has been delayed by many years beyond the age of puberty. This has indeed led to an increase in the removal of the veil from the face, and increased fornication and adultery, as well as the emergence of deviation in conduct and religion among the youth. They had become morally unstable as they lack affection, chastity, and protection their private parts from illegal sexual relations.By delaying marriage, there is also a reduction in the number of Muslims in the Ummah, and this is contrary to the order of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam), as he ordered us to have many children so that the Muslim nation will be greater in number than the previous nations.
Islamweb, Fatwa No. 88089, June 24, 2004
Islamic Q & A Online with Mufti Ebrahim Desai, Ask-Imam, Question No. 6737
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Islam Q&A, Fatwa No. 1493
- The only guardians who may compel their charge to marry are a virgin bride's father or father's father, compel meaning to marry her to a suitable match (def: m4) without her consent.
- Those who may not compel her are not entitled to marry her to someone unless she accepts and gives her permission.
Whenever the bride is a virgin, the father or father's father may marry her to someone without her permission, though it is recommended to ask her permission if she has reached puberty. A virgin's silence is considered as permission.
Committed by Muhammad
- Main Article: Muhammad's marriage to Aisha
Another justification used by scholars is that Muhammad, who is considered the Uswa Hasana (perfect example) by all Muslims, then in his early 50s, married Aisha, when she was a 6 year old girl and consummated the marriage when she was 9.
Committed by Muhammad's Companions
Umar ibn al-Khattab, the 2rd Caliph of Islam, at the age of 55 married Umm Kulthum bint Ali when she was between 10 and 12 years old. Some sources even say that she was five years old when Umar married her.
Example Cases Around the World
In September 2010, a 14-year-old girl from Melbourne was saved from an arranged marriage to an adult stranger by a court's ban on her travelling overseas until she turns 18. Her Muslim family (originally from Macedonia) was also forced to surrender the child's passport and cannot apply for a new one.
September 4 2009, in Barisal, Bangladesh, 75-year old moneylender Lokman Sikder was given 13-year old Akhinur in marriage, by her father, as payment for his unpaid loan of Tk 4,000. Lokman Sikder was previously known to the child as 'Lokman Nana' (grandfather).
In 2011, Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini threatened to wage jihad in the country if the government passed any law banning child marriage. He said, two hundred thousand Jihadists of his group are ready to 'sacrifice' lives if any such law, which goes against "Qur'an and Sunnah" be passed by the government.
In Indonesia, a 43-year-old Muslim cleric married a 12-year-old girl in front of thousands of people in the Central Java Province in August of 2008. Not long after the marriage ceremony, police returned the girl to her parents' care. The cleric also announced his intention to marry two other girls aged 7 and 9. In March 2009, he and the girl's father were arrested. The cleric argued that he had committed no crime because he intended to wait until she reached puberty before consummating their relationship.
In August, 2010, the Malaysian State of southern Malacca legalized child marriages specifically between Muslim men and Muslim girls below the age of 16. In a country where Muslims now amount to 60% of the total population, they enforce "Sharia law which operates in parallel with the civil legal system." Ivy Josiah, the executive director of the Women's Aid Organisation, says "It is really a regressive move. It is turning back the clock."  News like this leaves one wondering what will happen to child abuse laws in Western countries once Muslims form a sizable portion of the population. In February 2010, two girls aged 10 and 11 were wed to middle-aged men in the state of Kelantan. The 11-year-old was found outside a mosque and was taken to hospital for treatment. Sharia court officials have said that her marriage was not officially approved. In December 2010, 23-year-old teacher Abdul Manan Othman married 14-year-old Siti Maryam Mahmod in a mass wedding at a major mosque, after being given permission in an Islamic Sharia court. The Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of legal affairs has shot down calls to ban underage marriage, stating "If the religion allows it, then we can't legislate against it."
In some cases, daughters are sold to other tribesmen by their own fathers as an alternative way of settling debt, which is usually accumulated as a result of gambling. The benefactor as a result marries his young bounty so that she may not have any excuse for returning to her native home (in the same concept as how ordinary people spend money that they acquire) .
There have also been cases, especially in Pakistan where daughters (sometimes as young as 3) have been sold to others for personal gain, usually to raise money for gambling, drinking, smoking and consuming drugs. Prices for child brides usually range from PKRs 80,000 to PKRs 200,000 (~US$ 1,340 to ~US$ 3,350). In March 2004 in Sindh province, Pakistan, a man was charged for selling his 7 year old daughter to a 35 year old man for marriage. In another rather peculiar case, a 13-year old girl, bought for PKRs 53,000 (~US$ 888) was later rejected by her buyer on the ground that the girl was not "healthy" enough, and he demanded a "healthier" girl from the seller.
Another form of pedophilic marriage is linked to a tribal custom called Vani, which is a common practice in the Punjab province of Pakistan and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This custom is tied to blood feuds among the differing tribes and clans where the young girls are forcibly married-off in order to resolve the feuds. The Vani could be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money in lieu, called Deet. Otherwise the young bride will have to pay for the crime of her male relatives by spending the rest of her life with a rival tribesman. In early January of 2010, ten people including a Muslim cleric and the father of the girls, were arrested for participating in "a jirga that declared two girls vani" in Pakistan. The girls (ages 9 and 3) were being used to resolve a marriage dispute.
Another rather similar concept is called Badal, or revenge. This custom is strong in Pashtun society native to northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, and leads to a need for disputes to be settled quickly to avoid further bloodshed. Girls are treated as second-class citizens when they are sent to be a bride in a new family to mend ties.
Finally, we have forced conversions of minors via marriage. This is when children from minority communities, such as the Hindus' and Christians, are kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to one of the kidnappers. These types of marriages have seen a sharp rise in recent years, due to the general indifference among the police forces towards the plight of the non-Muslim, and laws which prevent the return of 'Muslim' children to their non-Muslim parents. As was the case for the Christian mother Sajida Masih, who's 12 year-old daughter Huma was abducted at gunpoint by Muhammad Imran on the 23rd of February, 2009. When the terrified mother reported the crime to Sadar police station in Gujranwala, the police ridiculed her, and told her there was nothing they could do as she is now a Muslim.
In September 2011, a 12-year-old girl was given in marriage to an 85-year-old man in Chiniot. Rani was sold to her fathers rival for five acres of land, thus a blood debt. Langrana Station House Officer (SHO) Zafar Bhatti said that he had conducted a raid at the marriage ceremony but found that no laws were broken. “I cannot arrest anyone here because the girl is an adult as per Islamic Law and Shariah. She is 12-years-old and that is not too young for marriage.”
In October 2011, Kot Shakir police arrested three men for marrying a 1-year-old infant to a 24-year-old man.
As recent as May 2009, A Saudi sheikh performed a wedding ceremony between a 10-year-old girl and a 26-year-old man. The reason for this? The girl's father said that he married off his daughter, as he feared she would remain a spinster.In 2008 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, another marriage between an 8 year old girl and a 58-year old-man was validated by a local court (other sources place his age at 47), and a plea by the girl's mother to nullify the marriage was rejected. The girl was apparently sold into the marriage by her father for SR 30,000 (~US$ 7,994) to ease the financial difficulty he was facing. A second attempt to have the marriage annulled was struck down by the same judge who denied the girl's mother as a witness in court because she was separated from her husband and therefore not the girl's legal guardian (under Shari'a). The judge ruled that the girl could seek a divorce when she reached puberty, and he required that the husband sign an agreement not to consummate the marriage until the girl reached puberty. In August 2009, a Saudi father returned his 10-year-old daughter to her elderly husband who was reportedly 80 years old. The girl had been hiding with her aunt for over a week until she was discovered by her father. Originally the girl's older sister was betrothed to the man, but when the elder girl chose instead to further her education, their father gave the 10-year-old to him as a replacement bride. The husband insisted that "My marriage is not against Shariah. It included the elements of acceptance and response by the father of the bride." In February 2010, a 12-year-old girl, fighting to divorce an 80-year-old man who paid her father $22,000 for permission to marry her, suddenly dropped her divorce request. She failed to appear in court on the day the judge was supposed to issue his decision. No news was further reported as to why she dropped the case.
According to 2009 government figures in the UK, forced marriages have seen a ten-fold rise in just four years. One-third of these cases involve victims aged under 18, and one-sixth under the age of 16. While it is reported to be a problem mainly concentrated within the "Asian" communities, this is usually a politically-correct term given to any sensitive issues concerning the Muslim population. This has been previously witnessed with the media handling of the 2001 "race riots" in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley. The government, and the then home secretary David Blunkett, were secretly warned by the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Gurbux Singh, that more violence was to be expected from "Young Muslims who feel disenfranchised" living among the many "Muslim" hotspots in the UK.
On the 4th of August 2009, 23 year-old Vincent Mosby paid a dowry (consisting of a watch and a ring purchased from Wal-Mart) and married a 14-year-old child in a religious ceremony held in her parents home, and attended by two other members of the Kansas City mosque the child bride's step-father belongs to. The parents say they pressured their daughter into the marriage, due to fears of her becoming sexually active with a boy her own age. Mosby was charged with statutory rape in November 2009.
In September 2009, a 12-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced into marriage died during a painful childbirth which also killed her baby. In 2008, 10-year-old Nujood Ali went to a courthouse by herself, after attempts to get help from relatives failed, and demanded a divorce, generating a landmark legal case. The judge granted the girl a permanent divorce from her 30-year-old husband who had raped and beaten Nujood on their wedding night. Her lawyer said that they were "lucky with this judge. Another judge might not have accepted her in court, and would have asked her father or brother to come instead." Had that happened, Nujood would probably still be married. However, based on the principles of Shariah law, her husband was compensated, not prosecuted. Nujood was ordered to pay him more than $200 -- a huge amount in a country where the United Nations Development Programme says 15.7 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. She also feels like an outcast among her relatives and friends. Just weeks after Nujood's case, 9-year-old Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali ran away from her 35-year-old husband to a local hospital and reported that she had been beaten and sexually abused for eight months. The judge who heard her case briefly jailed the local judge who had approved the marriage contract. Arwa's husband refused to show up to court. Also in 2008, Reem, a Yemeni girl married at 12, sought a divorce from her 30-year-old husband after he choked her, bit her, dragged her by the hair, and raped her when she resisted his demands for sex. He imprisoned her in his house for 11 days during which time she tried to kill herself with a kitchen knife before being rescued by her mother. Her father had forced her into the marriage with her cousin, resorting to a gag and tying her up twice. He also threatened to kill the girl for defying him.
In countries like Yemen, Bangladesh, Iran, and Northern Nigeria, attempts at reforming laws and banning child marriages have been opposed and stopped on the grounds that such a ban would be un-Islamic, and in the case of Malaysia, the growing Muslim population has effectively turned back the clock on social progress by passing new laws which allow for the practice of pedophilic marriages specifically between followers of Islam. Whatever reasons and justification people may give for the prevalence of child marriages in Muslim-majority nations, without Islam this practice would likely have been discarded as immoral and unacceptable in the modern world.
- Marriage - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Marriage
- Photo op: Child brides in Afghanistan - Images of pedophilic Islamic marriages
- Child Brides - Child Marriage: What We Know - PBS, October 12, 2007
- Before She's Ready: 15 Places Girls Marry by 15 - World Vision, 2008
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- For example Muslim Women's Network UK and Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
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- Reliance of the Traveller/Book M: Marriage - (full text online)
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- Shamsul Islam - Wani tradition: 3 arrested for marrying infant to 24-year-old - The Express Tribune, October 11, 2011
- thememriblog; In Saudi Arabia, Girl, 10, Wed To Man, 26 - MEMRI blog (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, May 6, 2009)
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- Child bride turned over to 80-year-old husband - Arab News, August 26, 2009
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- Ten-fold rise in forced marriages in just four years - The Daily Mail, July 2, 2009
- Home affairs editor, Alan Travis- 'Summer of race riots' feared after clashes in 2001 - The Guardian, December 28, 2006
- Christine Vendel - Man charged with statutory rape in ‘marriage’ to 14-year-old girl - The Kansas City Star, November 8, 2009
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