When it’s spring, a young man’s fancy may turn to thoughts of love, but when it’s summer, the thoughts of wealthy Arab men turn to purchasing underage, impoverished Egyptian girls as temporary “summer brides” for use as sexual slaves and forced laborers.
That disturbing revelation was found in the US State Department’s 2012 “Trafficking in Persons Report," which found that rich Arab tourists visiting Egypt, most of whom hail from the Persian Gulf, are seeking temporary marriages with young girls in order to circumvent Egypt’s ban on pre-marital sex.
Those restrictions make finding a hotel or landlord willing to rent a room to unwed couples in search of extra-curricular sex virtually impossible, thus requiring the need to find quick and proper marital documentation.
It should be noted that temporary marriages have long been used in Islamic countries to give religiously legitimate cover to a sexual relationship, commonly used by young couples not ready for a permanent marriage, men seeking to have affairs, or men unable to afford the expense of a traditional Islamic wedding.
Not surprisingly, however, these temporary unions, called mut’a or “pleasure” marriages by Shiite Muslims and urfi or “customary” marriages by Sunni Muslims, have been used as loopholes for prostitution and human trafficking.
To that end, upscale Arab sex tourists are enlisting commission-based marriage brokers to locate Egyptian girls willing to enter into a misyar or “visitor” marriage, a temporary and legally non-binding marital contract that terminates once the men return to their home country.
The price for these misyar marriages range from $500 to $5000 and, in a country where almost half of its 82 million people live on less than $2 a day, proves a powerful magnet to cash-starved Egyptian families with young daughters.
As Dr. Hoda Badran, head of the NGO Alliance for Arab Women, said, “If those families are in such a need to sell their daughters you can imagine how poor they are,” adding that while many parents will marry their daughter without her consent, often the girls agree to the arrangement because “it is the only way out to help the family survive.”
Not surprisingly, the price paid by these girls for helping their families to survive their economic plight comes at a steep cost.
For starters, even though a misyar marriage is religiously sanctioned, the arrangement is little more than dressed-up prostitution, a fact that makes it, according to Siham Ali, who runs a help hotline for victims of visitor marriages, “taboo in society.”
That stigma has a cascading effect, especially for those girls who become pregnant during their temporary marriage, few of whom understand that they will be required to provide care for their child without any monetary support from their “husbands.”
The result is to lead many of these desperately poor and socially ostracized girls to dump their children in orphanages or abandon them in Egyptian streets.
Of course, it may provide some cold comfort to these abandoned misyar brides that they at least weren’t forced to go back as “servants” to their new “husbands” homes in the Persian Gulf a hot spot for human trafficking.
According to the State Department, women, girls and boys are trafficked within the region for commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes through forced marriages, in which their new “husbands” force them into “prostitution and involuntary servitude as beggars or laborers to pay debts, provide income, or support drug addiction of their families.”
As horrid as that prospect is, it’s equally disturbing that these temporary brides are little more than children themselves, with most of the girls auctioned off under 16 years of age.
The demand for young girls, according to Aiman Abu Akeel, chair of the Maat Foundation for Peace and Development, stems from the fact that the majority of men who visit Egypt looking for visitor marriages tend to be Saudis looking for women much younger than them.
That task, however, is complicated by the fact that Egyptian law forbids foreigners from marrying Egyptian girls if there is an age difference of 10 years or more.
So, to skirt around that barrier, parents and marriage brokers often forge birth certificates to make the girls appear older and the men younger, a task harder than it may seem given that girls as young as seven have been bought by Saudi nationals for temporary marriage.
Of course, the Saudi predilection for marrying young woman is well known, an age preference noted by one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential clerics, Sheik Saleh al-Fawzan, who issued a fatwa in January allowing fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters “even if they are in the cradle.”
Yet, al-Fawzan was quick to add that is wasn’t “permissible for their husbands to have sex with them unless they are capable of being placed beneath and bearing the weight of the men,” citing as an example the prophet Mohammad’s wife Aisha, whom he wed at the age of six, but didn’t have sex with until she was nine.
Unfortunately, the Saudi zeal for tossing temporary wives and acquiring illegitimate children is not relegated to the narrow confines of Egypt, where in 2010, nearly 900 children were born to Egyptian women and Saudi fathers.
Rather, Saudi sexual wanderlust has a global reach, with tens of thousands of abandoned wives and children in over 26 countries, with almost 5,000 wives and as many children having been deserted by their tourist husbands in Morocco alone.
As Najeeb Al-Zamil, founder of the Awasser, Back to the Roots Foundation, an NGO that helps Saudi children abroad, said, “Many children live in miserable conditions and turn to drugs and illegal activities, deprived as they are of their true identity.”
Yet, for Saudi and other Arab men, that seems a price they are more than willing to pay in order to receive the religious and legal approval to enjoy the sexual pleasures of a young “wife” during their holiday vacation before abandoning her and any offspring in familial and societal disgrace.
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