CAIRO: If Egypt’s constitution is passed in a popular referendum on December 15, women’s rights and girls’ rights in the country are among the most threatening issues at stake, local NGOs and women’s rights advocates have warned.
The Egyptian Association for the Assistance of Juveniles and Human Rights added that Article 70 also does not prohibit child trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The NGO decried the assembly’s failure to specify the age of children in the charter, particularly when Egypt was one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which clearly declares anyone below the age of 18 as a minor.
The minimum age for marriage set by the Personal Status Code in 2008 was 18, which is not the case under the new constitution.
According to Amnesty International, Egypt’s draft constitution does not shield minors from early marriage and permits child labor.
Ultra-conservative Salafists – Islamic puritans – have been calling for the marriage age to be reduced, and under the new constitution, it could very well see the gross exploitation of the country’s young girls.
“It is permissible for the girl at the age of 9 or 10 to marry,” Yassir Barhami said in discussing a woman’s sexual reproduction and his interpretation of Islam during a September interview.
The Salafist preacher claimed that under Islam when a girl begins to ovulate she is ready for marriage.
He added during a television debate on Dream TV that “marriage of a girl would not be a supplement for education,” but added that it “was better” to marry a girl young “than falling into sin with customary marriage.”
He is a member of the constituent assembly that was tasked with drafting the constitution.
The cleric cited the Qur’an in arguing that any girl who is menstruating should be married and begin having children.
At the same time of advocating the marriage age be dropped to 14-years-old, he argued that the Salafist Constituent Assembly is also pushing for a law that denies “slavery against women” in the new constitution.
Manal al-Taibi, a now resigned member of the Constituent Assembly, said that this call is the promotion of child marriage and is akin to rape.
She has resigned her position on the assembly in protest to the overuse of Sharia law, or Islamic law, permeating the drafting process.
On top of the marriage issue, women’s rights as a whole have been removed, and the clause on equality has been left out.
The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) said in a statement that the cancellation of a number of women’s rights clauses is “planned aggression against Egyptian women” and demanded that women and their rights are protected in the new constitution.
“In the light of intimidating the Egyptian women and seeking to attack their rights by some dominant mainstream in the constituent assembly of the constitution, the Egyptian society was shocked due to the announcement, on behalf of some members of the committee, on the cancellation of article 68 from what is known as the draft of constitution,” ECWR said in their statement.
Article 68 had guaranteed the rights and equality of women and men in all sectors of society, including political, cultural, economic and social life “and all other fields without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Shari’a.
“The State provides the services of motherhood and childhood for free. The state ensures the women’s health care, social and economic rights and the right of inheritance and reconcile with her duties towards the family and her work in the society. The state provides protection and special attention of household, divorced, and widowed women and others of women who most in need,” read Article 68.
The rights group urged the constituent assembly to abide by the understanding that men and women are equal under Egyptian law.
“The need to include specific references aiming at establishing the principle of equality between women and men, addressed ‘women and men’, instead of the signals or ambiguous and general words such as ‘personals and citizens or individuals’. The reference of women or men in the preamble reinforces the idea that says women and men are equal in the constitution and both of them have the same rights and duties, and they are treated equally without any discrimination,” ECWR continued.
Women’s rights have become a major focal point in the new constitution, with a number of conservatives on the assembly pushing to revoke many of the gains achieved in the years leading up to the Egyptian uprising, including divorce rights, economic rights and the age of marriage.
First published on BikyaMasr