August 9, 2013 2 Comments
When The Girl Child Turns Out To Be A Commodity
Each summer, wealthy male tourists from Gulf Arab states flock to Egypt to escape the oppressive heat of the Arabian Peninsula, taking residence at upscale hotels and rented flats in Cairo and Alexandria. Many come with their families and housekeeping staff, spending their days by the pool, shopping, and frequenting cafes and nightclubs. Others come for a more sinister purpose.
In El Hawamdia, a poor agricultural town 20 kilometres south of Cairo. 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 sham nuptials may last from a couple of hours to years, depending on the negotiated arrangement.
“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.”
The girl is returned to her family when the marriage ends, 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 deals are hatched in El Hawamdia’s myriad “marriage broker” offices, identifiable by the conspicuous presence of air-conditioners in a ramshackle town with intermittent power.
The brokers, usually second-rate lawyers, also offer a delivery service. Village girls as young as 11 are brought to the Arab tourists’ hotel or rented flat for selection. Arab men travelling with their wives and children often arrange a separate flat for such purposes.
The temporary marriages offer a way to circumvent Islamic restrictions on pre-marital sex.
“Many hotels and landlords in Egypt will not rent a room to unmarried couples,” explains Mohamed Fahmy, a Cairo real estate agent. “A marriage certificate, even a flimsy one, allows visiting men to have sexual liaisons.”
Engaging in sexual relations with minors is illegal in Egypt. Brokers can help with that too, forging birth certificates or substituting the identity card of the girl’s older sister.
A one-day mut’a or “pleasure” marriage can be arranged for as little as 800 Egyptian pounds (115 dollars). The money is split between the broker and the girl’s parents.
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