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Early marriage increasing in Lebanon in light of the economic crisis, pandemic and the absence of a unified personal status law

18-5-2021

The economic financial crisis, coupled with the coronavirus and the absence of a unified personal status law, has led to an increase in the rate of early marriages in Lebanon, according to a feature by German Deutsche Welle built on the findings delivered by a number of human rights organizations involved with children’s rights in the country. On the subject, UNICEF’s chief of child protection in Lebanon, Johanna Eriksson, said that based on the organization’s hands-on observations and the data it shared with local partners, it was found that as a result of worsening economic conditions, child marriage is on the surge, calling it a defeatist practice of adaptation. The finding was also supported by Plan International. Similarly, Save the Children-Lebanon Farah Salhab pointed to a direct association between the coronavirus and child marriage increase, explaining that online learning, which has proved unworkable for many children, has prompted many girls to drop out of school. Salhab cited a number of children saying that they have been forced to marry after leaving high school. Salhab mentioned a report put out by the Organization last March on the influence of Covid-19 on child marriage, which warned that the virus puts at risk of marriage some 10 million underage girls during the next 10 years. For its part, Plan International indicated that Covid-19 enforced school closures could increase by 25% chances of forced child marriages. Likewise, a UNICEF study conducted before the crisis (between 2015 and 2016), has shown that child marriage rates were highly concentrated in refugee communities. Nearly 20% of female Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and another 25% of female Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria, have married before the age of 18, compared to only 6% among the Lebanese girls, the report said, citing researchers who stated that the phenomenon is currently growing rapidly outside of the refugee populations. Re personal status laws in Lebanon, the UNICEF study pointed out that due to the absence of a unified personal status law, each of the 18 recognized religious groups in the country sets its own rules on the legal age to marry, from 14 for Catholics , 18 for members of the Greek Orthodox Church, and 18 for the Sunni sect, according to the new amendments issued by supreme religious authority for Sunni community, which raised the age of marriage to 18 year for both males and females, and to 15 year in certain exceptional cases, and which were published in the Official Gazette on April 22. In response to the amendments, Justice Minister Marie Claude Najm tweeted stating, that notwithstanding her strong commitment to a secular state which will regulate all personal status matters, she generally lauds the Islamic Sharia Council decision. (Al Diyar, May 13, 2021, Deutsche Welle)

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