almost 20,000 requests processed in 2020

Some 13,335 permits for the marriage of minors were issued in 2020, as was revealed during a seminar held by the Public Ministry with the Ministry of National Education in the city of Ben Guerir. The Attorney General at the Court of Cassation, President of the Public Ministry, Moulay El Hassan Daki, indicated that Moroccan courts had received 19,926 requests for authorization to marry a minor. “If judges are not responsible for the large number of requests to marry minors, then we are all responsible,” he said, calling on judges not to empty the legislative exception of its content and to care about the best interests of the child.

In 2011, Morocco banned the marriage of minors while reforming the Moroccan Family Code. In the same year, the Moroccan Ministry of Justice and Freedoms reported that these marriages represented 11.9% of all marriages, registering an increase of 0.9%. Although 2012 saw a slight drop of 1% in underage marriages in the country, the rate has steadily increased since then. In 2020, the number of marriages involving minors represented 6.48% of total marriages in Morocco, showing a slight – but insignificant – decrease since 2015.

While the marriage of minors is illegal under the Moroccan Family Code, the same code provides for the possibility of exemption in certain so-called special circumstances. Specifically, the code states that a judge has the power to authorize underage marriages under article 16 of the code, creating a loophole that prevents the eradication of child marriage in Morocco.

In addition to this legal loophole, ‘Al Fatiha’ marriages – undocumented marriages conforming to customary Muslim law – provide a backdoor channel for marrying children, especially in rural areas. These marriages are all the more problematic because they are not quantifiable and once presented to a court, the judge has no other choice but to resort to article 16 of the family code to approve them.

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Although Morocco has made some of the most progressive reforms in the MENA region, patriarchal traditions and norms still stand in the way of translating these policies into tangible results, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund study (UNICEF ). Data compiled by UNICEF as part of a 2020 survey indicate that family authority and limited access to education put young girls at a higher risk of early marriage. To this can be added, according to the same survey, many socio-economic advantages which would benefit especially the young girls, in particular a higher dowry relieving the burden of the family and preserving its honor by avoiding pregnancies outside marriage.

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