Demeaning Trade

Rich tourists from wealthy Arab countries in the Persian Gulf (namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) are buying young Egyptian girls – some under 18 – as temporary ‘brides’ for the summer. These marriages begin with tourists paying a ‘dowry’ to their families through intermediaries. Prices begin from £320 ($500) and can go up to £3,200 per head. These short-term marriages are not legally binding as they are not officially registered, and cease when the ‘husbands’ return to their homes.

Tragic Aftermath

According to a U.S. State Department report, “Trafficking in Persons”, such sham marriages turn their victims into servants and sexual slaves to their ‘husbands’. A number of them are brought back to the countries of their ‘husbands’ where they serve as maids. The others, who remain in Egypt, suffer social condemnation from their conservative society and become outcasts. This is especially so for victims with children from their temporary marriages, resulting in further problems of the latter being abandoned in orphanages or left on the streets. Many of the discarded brides then fall prey to Egyptian men who force them into prostitution.

Breaking The Law

Egypt’s state laws actually prohibit marriage between a foreigner and an Egyptian woman in cases where there is an age gap of 10 years or more between them. However, both the victims’ parents and marriage brokers are well versed in fabricating birth certificates of both the brides and the ‘husbands’ in order to bypass the prohibition.

Back in 2009, a court in Alexandria did jail two registrars for conducting temporary marriages of hundreds of girls under 18. However, it is rare for conspirators to be caught and made to pay for their cruel crimes.

Poverty Looms Large Behind The Scene

Dr. Hoda Badran, chairperson of the NGO, Alliance for Arab Women, said in an interview with a British newspaper that she believed poverty was the major cause of the virtual slave trade.

Meanwhile, the “Trafficking in Persons” report has discovered that many parents ‘marry off’ their young and innocent daughters without their consent. In addition, the ladies seldom know that their ‘marriages’ are not meant to last, even as they accede to the marriages out of a desire to relieve their beloved families’ of poverty.

“If those families are in such a need to sell their daughters, you can imagine how poor they are,” states Dr. Hoda Badran. “[The girl] is young, she accepts what her family tells her, she knows the man is going to help them. If the family is very poor, sometimes these ‘marriages’ are the only way out to help the family survive”.

Case Of A 17-Year-Old Bride

Aziza (not her real name) is one example of the ‘summer brides’ who reside in villages around Giza in northeastern Egypt. At the age of 17, she married a 45-year-old Saudi Arabian man who, in return, gave her impoverished parents the equivalent of $3,300 and promised to help her brother secure a job in the Gulf region.

After staying for a month, Aziza’s husband promptly returned home, promising before he left that she could join him later. However, after months of waiting, a heavily pregnant Aziza tried to trace him through the Saudi embassy so that the child could be formally recognized. However, as her marriage was not officially registered, Aziza could not prove her claim. Subsequently, she had no choice but to return home and raise her child as a single mother, thus sinking into deeper financial hardship.

Think About It

Sex before marriage is banned under Islamic law and most hotels and landlords demand proof before allowing a couple to share the same room. If these parties are able to observe such a law, shouldn’t the Egyptian government similarly uphold morality by strictly enforcing the foregoing age-gap law to thwart fake marriages? Could it be that it is not doing so out of ignorance? But in view of the 2009 case involving the two registrars, the government should at least have an inkling of the sham marriages problem, and work to resolve it. However, given poverty is the root cause of this sex trade, how can the cash-strapped Egyptian government help alleviate the situation? Amid the country’s current political instability – its newly elected President is at odds with the judiciary and the mighty military – it is perhaps too much to expect the government to do something about it.

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