The U.S. Department of State's highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens. It considers the issue of forced marriage to be a violation of basic human rights and a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence. International law and conventions also support an individual's right to self-determination, minimum marriage ages and the rejection of abuse of women and honor based violence.
Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement but the choice whether to consent remains with the individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.
In Egypt, marriage laws are based on Sharia law. Under Egyptian law, there are three conditions for a valid civil marriage contract. First, the parties must both agree to the marriage and its conditions. Second, the couple must meet the proper age requirements (minimum age for men and women is 18). Finally, the marriage contract must be announced, notarized, and signed by two witnesses. However, there are other types of marriage contracts that are commonly used such as Urfi, Mot’aa and Misyar marriages, not all of which are recognized as valid. In an Urfi marriage, a man and woman sign a contract in front of a judge without any witnesses. This is not considered a legal marriage in Egypt and does not allow for spousal inheritance. The Mot’aa and Misyar marriages are temporary marriages, usually for a few weeks. This type of “marriage” is basically a form of legal prostitution and does not allow for spousal inheritance either. Egypt does not have a specific law banning forced marriage.
Traditionally, most families in Egypt use a marriage broker or arrange marriages themselves for their sons and daughters who have reached marrying age. These are often marriages between first cousins or other extended family members. A tradition that is widely practiced is the "gawwaz el-salonat" (living room marriage). This is where a man is brought to the family home and presented to the daughter. After this sitting, the daughter must decide if she wants to marry him or not. Marriage age for Egyptians tends to be late teens/early twenties for women and usually early to mid twenties for men. Men are expected to pay the majority of the marriage costs, including the providing of a furnished home to the bride. Due to inflation and a rising cost-of-living, marriage in Egypt is becoming more and more expensive causing men to delay marriage until they are in their 30s or 40s when they have increased assets. Some couples decide to have extended engagements instead of marrying right away. Marriage in Egypt and in most of the Middle East is an essential part of life. Marriage and children provide individuals with greater status in society.
According to a 2005 United Nations report, “honor killings” do occur in Egypt. Statistics are difficult to obtain because many of the killings are not documented as such. Most of these crimes are carried out by male family members (husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles) against female family members (wives, daughters, sisters, nieces) who are suspected of committing adulterous acts in and out of wedlock. In 2009 the Consular Section interviewed two women who claimed that their fathers had forced them into marriage. Both stated that they would face repercussions if they did not marry the chosen groom or if they chose to leave him. One woman fled her father’s home to avoid any sort of consequence.
Several news reports have discussed the issue of older, wealthy men from the Gulf countries paying a large sum of money to poor Egyptian families in return for marriage to a young – usually teenage – girl. This issue became so prevalent in 2008 that the Egyptian Government imposed a law banning any marriage where the husband is more than 25 years older than the wife. However, according to local newspapers, if a certain amount of money is deposited in the young bride’s bank account, the government might allow the marriage to take place. News reports state that in 2008, 173 marriages of this nature took place.
Women in Egypt who are victims of violence or who are afraid for their own safety can contact the El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (2576 4409/ 2578 7089 at 3A Soliman El-Halaby Street – Ramses, Cairo, Egypt). The organization is willing to help victims of any nationality, and has doctors and psychologists available to help rehabilitate female victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or torture. Another resource for women is the Ombudsman’s Office (0800 888 3888/ 257 48168/ 257 47966) which provides legal counsel to individuals looking for assistance.
If you are facing this situation, or know someone who is, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Country Specific Information for Egypt for locations and contact information.