In light of the move by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in Lebanon to discuss a draft law that aims to unify the age of marriage and prevent marriages for those under 18 years of age, Equality Now MENA is pleased to discuss with Ghenwa Chinder, Program and Campaigns Manager at The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Woman LECORVAW in Lebanon, on the significance of this proposed draft law that represents a milestone in a country with multiple personal status laws.
- Preventing the marriage of underage girls is at the top of the list of demands for human rights organizations in Lebanon. The Lebanese Parliament’s Human Rights Committee is discussing a law proposal to set the minimum age for marriage at 18. What is the importance of this proposed draft law?
The importance of this draft law lies in the fact that it seeks to protect female children from the risks of early marriage and to put an end to the problem of child marriage, which has worsened in Lebanon recently due to various social, economic, and legal reasons. It also seeks to establish a unified minimum age for marriage in Lebanon, which is governed by 15 different personal status laws. This comes after years of accumulated advocacy efforts by non-governmental organizations and human rights organizations, which have always faced challenges related to traditional norms and the cultural background of the legislators, which in most cases justify the marriage of female children.
- The draft law does not include any exceptions. What are the views of those who support this approach?
In general, as a women’s and human rights organization and other NGOs like us, we aim to prevent the marriage of female and male children under the age of 18 without exceptions. However, the social and cultural reality of the country and the approach to some cases may impose a “certain” reality that requires a reconsideration of the issue of applying the exceptions within clear frameworks and with specific and restrictive conditions so that the exception does not become the rule. It should be noted that the parliamentary majority is not agreeing to pass the law without exceptions, even though we have recently witnessed a gradual shift among many members of Parliament in accepting the idea of the draft law and approving it. This results from public pressure, community mobilisation, and advocacy primarily led by NGOs, including The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women (LECORVAW).
By contrast, there is a group that refuses to even discuss the issue of exceptions in this draft law out of concern that the exceptions will be too broad and become the rule, as we already mentioned.
- The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women (LECORVAW) has proposed a draft law to prevent child marriage, which allows judges to marry girls under 18 in exceptional cases. What are the details of this draft law?
The proposed draft law, which was drafted and submitted by The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Woman (LECORVAW) stresses the prohibition of the marriage of girls and boys under the age of at least 18, but it stipulates an exception to marriage contract for a woman who has completed sixteen years of age on the condition that an apparent reason is provided to prove the girl’s interest in this marriage. The judge seeks the assistance of social and psychological specialists to prepare a report on the condition of the girl to be married. After that, the judge should issue his report based on the stipulated conditions’ completion, fulfillment, and verification. The judge must take the necessary protective measures if he finds out that the girl has been subjected to any violence, coercion, or sexual assault.
The proposed draft law also addresses Articles 505 and 518 of the penalties related to rape, which also constitutes “access” to the marriage of girls, and proposes amending or abolishing them and tightening the penalties for the rapist.
- What are the next steps regarding the draft law submitted to the parliament?
The draft law proposal was discussed by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, pending its transfer to the Parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee for discussion. It will then be referred to the General Assembly of the Parliament for a decision on acceptance, rejection or modification.
- What are some challenges in getting the current draft law approved by Parliament and made into law?
The prevalent cultural norms pose the greatest challenge to the final approval of the law, especially since the legislators, i.e., the members of parliament, come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds, and many of them support the marriage of female children according to their societal norms. Additionally, religious authorities, who are granted legal powers in the country’s pluralistic system, may perceive the new law, which seeks to set a minimum, uniform age for all sects in Lebanon, as a threat to the existing 15 personal status laws and a weakening of their religious authority; therefore weakening of the authority of personal status laws.
- What can be done to raise awareness around child marriage and build support for the draft law?
Advocacy campaigns that involve the participation of the local communities and the support of international human rights organisations are critical. We also need to focus on awareness-raising within communities, especially marginalised communities and those most affected by the phenomenon of child marriage, targeting both sexes, spreading awareness among young people within schools and universities, and involving them in advocacy. Constantly networking with influential people and decision-makers and pressuring them to approve the draft law is also important. Support can also be sought through local and regional alliances and the advocacy of partner countries and organisations, particularly since child marriage is a shared issue.
- What message would you like to send to the Lebanese Parliament?
I would like to emphasize that women’s and girls’ issues, including the issue of child marriage, are a matter of public concern and should be prioritised. It is important to pass a law that protects girls from the risks of early marriage that threaten their physical and mental health and violate their dignity and childhood. It is also important to emphasize that the risks arising from child marriage affect not only the child herself but also the family and society.
- What message would you like to send to the Lebanese people?
The rights of young women and girls are an integral part of human rights, and any violation of these rights is a violation of humanity that has a negative impact on all aspects and segments of society. Therefore, there is an obligation to uphold the human rights of girls in terms of education, physical and mental health and living with dignity.