Underage Girls Sold into Temporary “Marriages” in Egypt

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Young girls in Egypt are being sold to wealthy foreign men into arranged marriage that last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. A majority of these marriages happen during the summer months when men—mostly from Saudi Arabia—come to buy girls for “pleasure” marriages.  Each year in El Hawamdia and other impoverished rural communities across Egypt, thousands of girls between the ages of 11 and 18 are sold by their parents to wealthy, much older Gulf Arab men under the pretext of marriage.

“The girl may have 10 siblings, so the family considers her as a commodity,” according to Sandy Shinouda, a Cairo-based official at the International Organization of Migration’s Counter-Trafficking Unit.  “It’s a form of child prostitution in the guise of marriage,” Azza El-Ashmawy, director of the Child Anti-Trafficking Unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), tells IPS. “The man pays a sum of money and will stay with the girl for a few days or the summer, or will take her back to his country for domestic work or prostitution.”  When the marriage ends, the girl is returned to her family, usually to be married off again. “Some girls have been married 60 times by the time they turn 18,” says El-Ashmawy. “Most ‘marriages’ last for just a couple of days or weeks.”

The girls are sold by their families and contracted through a marriage broker. By framing the contracts as marriages, such arrangements circumvent strict Islamic prohibitions against premarital sex.  Most hotels will not rent a room to unmarried couples. Although Egyptian law formally prohibits underage marriage, this restriction is poorly enforced.

A similar story was reported on the Washington Post news blog, however it focused on the economic impacts that trigger underage marriage.

Source: Cam McGrath, “Underage Girls Are Egypt’s Summer Rentals” Inter Press Service News Agency, August 5, 2013, http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/underage-girls-are-egypts-summer-rentals/.

Student Researcher: Samantha Cowley (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Jacobs (Sonoma State University)