Sunni courts in Lebanon have worked to ban the archaic practice of underage marriage which affects girls across the country especially with the rise in poverty rates.
The Supreme Islamic Sharia Council finally approved a resolution (No. 62) that raises the minimum age for marriage to 18. According to data collected by UNICEF between 2015 and 2016, about 6% of Lebanese women were married before they turned 18.
Underage marriage rates are even higher among Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and that was before the current crises prevailing over Lebanon.
“Since the pandemic, we have seen a direct link between COVID-19 and a rise in child marriage,” Farah Salhab, of Save the Children NGO in Lebanon, told DW.
In an exception to Resolution 62, those wanting to marry before 18 must be at least 15 years old and the union requires the approval of both the minor and the legal guardian.
Additionally, before the marriage can take place, a medical examination must be carried out to assess the mental, physical, and psychological condition of the minor who seeks to be married.
Under Resolution 62, minors married against their will can now request an annulment. Legal guardians can also request an annulment of the minor’s marriage if it took place without their approval.
Resolution 62 also makes it more difficult for a legal guardian to entrap or pressure the minor into marriage by increasing requirements needed before a marriage is carried out.
If the legal guardian attempts to marry off the minor without a judge’s permission or without completing the required procedures, the court will force all parties involved in the marriage to provide required documents before moving forward.
If a minor is not comfortable with the marriage or if it appears the minor is unfit for marriage, a judge has the power to dissolve a marriage by pardon or at the request of the minor or legal guardian.
Additionally, violators, including clerics who contract unlawful marriages, will now be prosecuted by the criminal courts.
As per Article 483 of the penal code, a cleric who officiates a marriage for a minor under 18 without the consent of the legal guardian will be punished with a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 LBP.
This also applies if the cleric replaces the guardian’s consent with permission from a judge.
Underage marriage is an issue that affects children around the world. According to UNFPA, nearly 12 million girls are married off each year.