You Have to Marry Him: Morocco’s Child Marriage

Few miles away from urban areas, Morocco can be home to numerous precarious families on the edge committed to their deep-rooted traditions. If you venture into some rural areas, you will stumble upon remote towns and stranded villages off the beaten track where access to public health and equal opportunity to education are alarmingly lacking. These forgotten communities are disregarded by the authorities as the law is barely enforced. Local practices and customs imply that in the most remote and landlocked regions of Morocco, it is still customary to marry a girl from the age of 12 upwards.

According to the High Commission of Planning for Morocco, over 45,000 girls under 18 years of age were married in 2014. The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18. However, a legislative article allows the court to make exceptions to the rule. In all cases, young girls end up being victims of the weight of traditions and too early deprived of the recklessness of childhood. Above all, their dignity is violated making sure that their mouths are kept shut. Too preoccupied to preserve the honor of the family, too poor to handle the whole household, or too intimidated by the gaze of the neighbors, countless parents marry their underage daughters ignoring their distress. This practice robs them from an education and a healthy life. They are often beaten and mistreated by their in-laws and their husbands who are often way too old. These victims are abandoned by the society that pressures them, and by their parents that condemn them to the stake. Child Marriage is simultaneously a violation of children’s rights, the right to education, and women’s rights.

To put this into context, Morocco is facing a real paradox. The country is torn between conservatives who stand against women’s employment and progressives who promote women’s freedom. On one hand, we sense some progress and efforts regarding girls’ education. On the other hand, there are other currents who try to pull Moroccan society backwards and undermine all the undertaken efforts.

Child marriage is clearly a growing issue in the country. These young brides should learn how to emancipate from their traditional families and are in dire need to receive an education.  But again this is easy for us, in our comfort, to say. Kate Chopin said “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”

Fortunately, various members of civil society have been making increasing efforts to curb child marriages. For instance, the association Droit et Justice has been working for years to combat this phenomenon. In 2014, it launched the project Combating Underage Marriage through Legal Awareness (CUMLA). The aim is to raise awareness among underage girls, their families and friends, and judges about the repercussions of early marriage. On an international scale, UNICEF has been working tirelessly to prevent this harmful traditional practice. In fact, in coordination with UNFPA, UNICEF has supported more than 3 million teenage girls in 2018 and engaged with communities to prevent them from early marriage as part of the Global Program to End Child Marriage.

Normalized pedophilia is running deep in the community before our eyes. This is a call for us to give a voice to the voiceless, and accelerate our efforts. As youth, we can make an impact on the global scale. We can spread awareness, teach lessons about dignity, have an influence on policy making, and equip the next generations to build a better and safer environment. WYA is a stepping stone to make it happen as we all have the same mission; affirming the value of human life.

Published: September 5, 2020
Written by Sanae Ziadi, a WYA Middle East Intern Alumni from Morocco.