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Meet the teenage girls taking on child marriage in Morocco

Meet the teenage girls trying to eradicate child marriage in Morocco
4 min read
23 February, 2024
The current law in Morocco states that the legal age for marriage is 18. However, loopholes in the law allow minors to marry with judicial approval.

A group of young girls visited Rabat from January 22 to January 26 to meet with decision-makers to end child marriage in Morocco.

The delegation, comprised of girls between the ages of 15 and 16, was led by Project Soar, a non-profit organisation focused on empowering and facilitating positive change in young girls and women.

Project Soar is part of the BIGGER movement, a national movement funded by Civil Society In Development (CISU) to help end child marriage under the slogan "18, no exceptions." 

One of the teenage girls travelling to Rabat was 16-year-old Maryem from Souss-Massa. Swapping souvenirs for speeches, Maryem and the delegation of girls participated in discussions with senior members of the Moroccan parliament alongside officials and activists to help end child marriage.

It’s personal

Speaking to The New Arab, Maryem explained that helping to end child marriage is something "personal, happening around them all the time," adding that "one of my extended family members was forced into marrying a middle-aged man at the age of 15."

Shortly after the marriage, the young girl and her new husband disappeared. "We were looking for her for months," Maryem sighed.

The family of the missing girl almost gave up hope, however, they later managed to track down the girl and found her living on a farm.

The girl was forced into manual labour, taking care of the house and farm, and doing all the work alone. “The girl had not been eating well, she was not treated like a person, woman or girl, she was treated like an animal.” 

Girls from across Morocco convened at the Moroccan parliament to make their demands heard [photo credit: Project Soar]

Maryem joined the movement to bring about change for her peers. She told The New Arab about someone at her school whose "father stopped her from going to school and told her she'd get married at 16."

A teenager herself, Maryem has taken on the role of supporting her friends whose parents have prematurely taken them out of education. “I try my best, I send them lessons on WhatsApp just to help them learn something.”

During the trip to Rabat, the group of girls also learned about the physical and emotional consequences of child marriage. Before Project Soar, some of the group saw child marriage as something normal. However, as Asmae, 15, from Guelmin-Oued Noun explained, "A girl is a child and cannot carry another child in her body."

Loopholes in the law

Morocco’s child marriage law, known as the Moudawana, states that a person must be 18 years old before getting married. However, provisions such as Articles 20, 21 and 22 allow parties to appeal and have exceptions made to the minimum marriage age.

Thousands have been taking advantage of this right to appeal annually. In 2019 the Moroccan Ministry of Justice found there were 32,000 child marriage applications, 81% of which were approved. 

The NGO Girls Not Brides said that 14% of girls in Morocco are married under the age of 18. 

To leverage the BIGGER movement, the non-profit is collaborating with Politics4Her, an intersectional feminist youth-led digital platform & global movement, which has created an in-depth policy brief on child marriage. 

Why child marriage is prominent in Morocco

Child marriage is an accumulation of factors like poverty, education and climate change which disproportionately impact girls in Morocco, as highlighted in Politcs4Her’s policy brief. 

"We deserve the same rights as boys," said Nouhalia, 15, from a town near Marrakech. "We should be able to stay in education."

Maryem added, "One of my close relatives was forced to leave school when her mum got sick. She was then forced to marry at 16." The marriage only lasted a couple of months, "she was too young for the responsibility" said Maryem. But after the girl's father died, the relative was forced to marry again to bring in financial support for the family. She married a 40-year-old man. 

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Now the girl has been married twice and lost one of her parents all before the age of 18. Without formal education, she is limited in what she can do. 

The young girl pleaded with other girls out there, "All girls must stay in school, think for themselves, and learn to be independent so that no one else can make decisions for them." It's an important and pressing message. 

In September 2023, King Mohammed VI set a deadline with a maximum of 6 months to have the amendments submitted. The government will then develop a bill and submit it to parliament before it can be adopted.

Olivia Hooper is a British journalist based in Morocco specialising in humanitarian and gender-based topics. She also works as co-lead of communications and marketing at Politics4Her.