EIPR criticizes justice minister decree requiring foreign men to pay LE50,000 when marrying much younger Egyptian women: Decree undermines Egypt’s commitments on trafficking in women and sees trafficking as unalterable fact

Press Release

10 December 2015

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights criticized Minister of Justice Decree 9200/2015 amending the implementing regulations of Law 68/1947 on documentation. Article 1 of the amendments requires foreign men marrying Egyptian women to provide LE50,000 in investment certificates in the wife’s name, drawn on the National Bank, if the age difference between the prospective couple exceeds 25 years.

The EIPR is concerned that the decree ignores the reality of the so called seasonal, summer marriages in Egypt, a phenomenon that has increased over the last decade. In such marriages, typically intermediaries will broker a defined-term marriage between poor women and their families and wealthy Arabs in exchange for a certain sum of money. In its concluding observations to the Egyptian government in 2010, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women considered this type of marriage a form of human trafficking, describing it as negative phenomenon that should be combatted.

The EIPR is troubled by the imposition of financial conditions for marriages when a large age difference exists between the couple. Instead of setting conditions and rules and considering each case individually to determine whether the marriage is genuine and consensual rather than a form of trafficking, the state is hindering marriage between consenting adults if the man does not possess the required sum. In addition, it is facilitating the activity of traffickers by simply setting a financial condition for the approval of such marriages. It is naïve to think that the sum of LE50,000 can effectively prevent such commercial marriages. On the contrary, it may act to increase the rate of seasonal marriages, particularly given the lack of oversight and the stamp of approval this measure provides. The old documentation law only allowed marriages between foreign men and Egyptian women more than 25 years their junior with the approval of the minister of justice or his deputy. The minister should have revised decrees to bring them in line with the anti-trafficking law of 2010 instead of allowing such dubious marriages.

The EIPR thus considers this decree to be tantamount to the legalization of the crime of trafficking. Instead of marriage brokers and seekers feeling fearful and attempting to conceal their crime by avoiding official routes, they can now meet the official investment condition and go to the Ministry of Justice to conclude the marriage contract with the blessing of the state. Abandoning its role in suppressing this deplorable crime, the ministry clearly considers this form of trafficking a de facto reality. It is thus attempting to improve the conditions women's slavery by guaranteeing a minimum sum in exchange for the sexual services Egyptian women will provide their foreign husbands. Even worse, the state is regulating the practice, putting itself on a par with marriage brokers by ensuring that women receive material compensation in the form of investment certificates drawn on the National Bank.

The EIPR condemns the new decree for providing legal accommodations for human traffickers, whether middlemen or wealthy Arabs, when the most urgent priority in combatting human trafficking must always be to protect the victim, uphold her dignity, and provide legal aid to her. This is especially true considering that most of these marriages involve women from rural or exurban areas with little education and wealth.

The EIPR further notes that the decree is a violation of both domestic laws and Egypt’s commitments under the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, a supplement to the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.

The EIPR recommends that the decree be repealed and that the Ministry of Justice and civil servants responsible for documenting marriage contracts intensify their oversight activity, especially in cases where it is suspected that such marriages may constitute trafficking. Justice Ministry employees should be trained in how to deal with such cases, and efforts should be made to encourage the use of the complaint hotline run by the National Council for Women. The state should recall its obligations to enforce the 2010 anti-human trafficking law and its implementing regulations. The state is currently disregarding its obligations despite the increasing cases of trafficking and the fact that Egypt is a source country, transit, and final destination for human trafficking. The EIPR also emphasizes the importance of prosecuting and punishing persons involved in the crime of trafficking, as well as providing protection to victims. Raising awareness of the problematic nature of seasonal marriage and warning of its risks is the key to solving the problem. A comprehensive approach should be adopted based on the advancement of the status of vulnerable women and girls by improving their opportunities in education, health, and the labor market.