Underage marriage has increased in Lebanon during the pandemic, but mostly due to the economic crisis that has been affecting the country tremendously.
With schools closing in the last 2 years and the wave of the financial crisis that has affected the majority of the population, domestic violence has soared by 97% in Lebanon, and underage marriage has had its comeback.
Along with the lack of a legal minimum age that has thrown girls under 18 into marriage, sexual abuse is another reason for it.
On December 4th, 2021, a Palestinian religious sheik in Al Manara, West Beqaa married a 15-year-old girl that he had raped in his Koranic school on November 24th, 2021, as revealed later on by the investigations conducted by the Baydar al Adas police station in Rashaya.
The sheik divorced his victim shortly after marrying, which triggered her father’s suspicion, making him file a lawsuit.
On January 14th, the sheik was arrested for rape by the order from Judge Nadia Akl.
That drama was exposed but it is one among many others in Lebanon that are shushed in the darkness or buried under the existing layers of misdeeds, misinformation, misperceptions, oppression, and prejudice.
In figures, these layers translate into alarming rates: 59% of the victims of sexual assault are minors (45% male and 55% female), while 41% are adults (95% female and 5% male), as reported by Legal Agenda.
Since sex and all related matters are still considered taboo in Lebanon, there is a problematic lack of education about sexuality and sexual health, which contributes to sexual violence and abuse and to the vulnerability of their uninformed targets.
Lawmakers and law enforcers, including the judiciary, are similarly responsible, if not more, for, respectively,
having created laws that victimize and/or disregard women’s rights, and refusing to amend them to date, hence enabling perverse acts,
failing to judge fairly to the extent of the crimes and/or allowing political interference and wasta to spare the perpetrators.
That all has made sexual violence one of the most unpunished crimes in Lebanon.
A recent example involves the infamous Marwan Habib, a serial sexual harasser who, despite having been widely exposed publicly by many since 2019 and sued, was left to his freedom to continue to harass women and minors.
It was reported that a political party from the ruling body interfered to ensure he is set free.
Habib ended up being caught by the forceful hand of Justice, not in Lebanon but in the United States. On January 7th of this year, he was arrested for sexual assault in Miami, charged in court, and jailed without bail.
Since the onset of the Lebanese Revolution in October 2019, people in Lebanon have become more active and bold in exposing sexual perpetrators on social media, for lack of action from the authorities.
Many are stepping up to expose their perpetrators but most don’t.
This is due to fear for their reputation or of being castrated by a culture that tends to harshly judge women in such cases, or because they are minors and uninformed of their rights and available support network by NGOs, or are victims of their legal guardian at home or a family member.
In a culture where a rapist was legally forgiven of his outrageous crime if he marries his victim, whatever her young age, the trend continues, unfortunately with the blessing of parents fearing societal shame.
Most cases of rape end up in marriage, with the young girl forced to live with and serve her pervert “enemy” all her life so her parents spare themselves what they deem as a dishonor.
That alone reflects the extent of prejudice against women while the shame and dishonor should be borne by the perpetrator, not the victim.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, there are local organizations that can help. Reach out to:KAFA: +961 3 018 019, Himaya: +961 3 414 964, ABAAD: +961 81 78 81 78