17% of girls in Egypt are married before their 18th birthday. While the rate of child marriage in Egypt is declining, religious and traditional ideals and customs have stalled this progress.
Child marriage mainly affects girls living in poorer rural areas and is on the rise in some locations, including Upper Egypt.
Child marriage in Egypt is closely associated with deeply rooted cultural practices. 92% of the female population in Egypt have experienced Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), illustrating the persistence of patriarchal norms around women’s sexuality.
Girls’ disproportionate access to education is among the key causes of child marriage in Egypt. 13% of females and 3% of males aged 10 to 29 have never been to school.
As girls reach adolescence, community norms dictate that they should be married, perpetuating the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
The 2015 Trafficking in Persons report highlights cases where individuals from the Gulf buy Egyptian girls for ‘temporary’ or ‘summer’ marriages, for prostitution or forced labour. These arrangements are often facilitated by the girls’ families, who profit from the transaction.
The legal age of marriage in Egypt was increased to 18 following amendment of Egypt’s Child Law in 2008, which prohibits, but does not criminalise, the registration of child marriages.
After the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, proposals for draft legislation which would reduce the minimum age of marriage for girls from 18 to possibly as low as nine years old surfaced from conservative forces in the new government.
Thanks to the mobilisation of the National Council for Women and others, the proposals weren’t taken any further.
A five-year national strategy to prevent child marriage was launched in 2014. The process was led by the National Population Council, a governmental body which establishes national population policies and strategies in Egypt.
Recognising the need to prioritise child marriage as a health and population issue, the strategy aims to reduce the prevalence of early marriage by 50% within the next five years. It came about against the backdrop of the proposals to lower the minimum age of marriage and is currently in the first stage of implementation.
The strategy focuses on two approaches:
- A rights-based approach, which works towards ensuring children’s rights are upheld by religious and customs, not just by the Constitution;
- A partnership approach bringing together government, civil society and the private sector to work together.
However, the implementation of the strategy slowed down after the Ministry of Population was disbanded in 2016, and due to political insecurity and restrictions on civil society. Further clarity on the strategy’s status is needed from those working on the ground in Egypt.