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Council calls for action against underage marriage and reform of family law

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The Moroccan Family Code came under fire today as the Economic, Social and Environmental council presented its opinion on the harmful effects of underage marriage on children’s economic and social well-being.

While applauding the Family Law’s positive strides in gender equality, the council revealed glaring inconsistencies and loopholes that prioritise cultural norms and family needs over the “best interest of the child,” a concept not explicitly defined in the Code.

Despite provisions protecting children, the Family Code allows exceptions for child marriage, raising concerns about its alignment with the 2011 Constitution and international human rights standards. 

Even with efforts, the special provision in the 2004 Family Code allowing judges to approve underage marriages in exceptional cases has become common.

This is evident in the 12,940 marriage contracts involving minors in 2022.

The council noted that the actual scale of the issue may be larger because official statistics don’t include unregistered marriages like the “marriage of the Fatiha” and similar cases.

The report outlined the devastating economic and social implications of child marriage. 

Early marriage forces children, particularly girls, out of education, hindering their future prospects and economic participation. 

In Morocco, while overall enrollment rates have improved, stark disparities exist, with rural girls facing significantly higher dropout rates due to both educational challenges and underage marriage.

The report further revealed the link between child marriage, higher fertility rates, and poverty. 

Married girls at 15 have 26% more children, limiting their economic opportunities. 

Moreover, 32% of married underage girls already have children, exacerbating their social and economic challenges.

Concerning health risks, teenage mothers face greater chances of pregnancy-related complications. 

Despite recognizing the dangers of underage pregnancies, the Ministry of Health reports that 32% of married underage girls have children. 

Rural areas again show higher rates of teenage childbearing, with 33% of young women in rural areas having children already.

The report also points to a glimmer of hope. Efforts by the Public Prosecution to reject marriages of school-age girls, in partnership with the education sector, led to around 20,000 girls returning to school. 

The council’s report noted that it’s paramount Modernising the Family Code to explicitly prioritise the “best interest of the child” and eliminate loopholes allowing under-age marriage. 

To protect children’s futures and break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage Morocco must improve access to education, particularly in rural areas, and raise awareness about the dangers of child marriage.

To combat underage marriage, the council recommended aligning the legal framework with the constitution and international agreements ratified by Morocco. 

This involves removing Articles 20, 21, and 22 of the Family Code, which allow exceptions to the marriage age requirement of 18 years. 

The council also noted that there should be a specific provision in the Family Code concerning the principle of “the best interests of the child,” defining this principle and outlining how it should be applied.

The council suggested combating harmful practices against children through implementation of national and local policies in this regard. 

This includes expediting the implementation of an integrated policy to protect childhood, and enhancing systems of protection and social assistance. 

Financial support should be provided to poor families with school-aged girls to prevent them from being married off due to social reasons.

The council recommended establishing an information system to track and evaluate progress in eliminating child marriage practices. 

This system should be based on a set of appropriate indicators including data related to potential cases of child marriage, divorce among minors, proof of marriage for girls, cases of abandoned minor wives, and domestic violence against minor wives.

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