DAVAO, Philippines – Muslim Religious Leaders and legal experts in Mindanao endorsed a new fatwa, a formal legal opinion, clarifying issues of early and forced marriage in the context of Islam.
The fatwa was endorsed by Mufti Abuhuraira Udasan of the Dar-al-ifta Bangsamoro after a comprehensive examination of different sources from the Quran and after referring to the other fatwa of Muslim Scholars in the Islamic world.
A Dar-al-ifta is an educational institute founded to represent Islam and is a center for Islamic legal research.
The fatwa covers four issues: early and forced marriage, pre-marriage counselling, comprehensive gender and health education for youth and gender-based violence
1. Early and forced marriage
Islam does not precisely fix any marriage age but Islam urges youth to get married when the necessary conditions of “mind-maturity” and “intellectual-integrity” are met. However, this urgency is not applicable if the child is still at pre-puberty age.
The medical doctors of the Bangsamoro have recommended that the appropriate marrying age for a male is 20-years old and a female is 18-years old. In instances where the bride is below 18-years old, the couple may use contraceptives to delay pregnancy.
On forced marriage, the Council has unanimously resolved that a virgin woman who has reached the age of puberty with sound mind and integral intellect will not be compelled to marry without her consent. However, her silence is also meant to be interpreted as compliance or agreement to the marriage.
2. Pre-marriage counselling
The Council agreed on the importance of marriage in life and urges those who intend to get married to have a physical examination prior to solemnization of marriage.
The prime objective is to screen, detect and thus, prevent the transmission of contagious, hemolytic and hereditary diseases from one spouse to another and possibly acquired by a couple’s child.
3. Comprehensive gender and health education for youth
The Council recommends the resolute action on setting up a program for comprehensive gender and health education for youth and their related affairs. This also plays important role in orienting and guiding the Muslim youth to keep them more responsible.
4. Gender-based violence
The Council affirms the sublime status of women in Islam and affirms that gender-based violence and other forms of abuses against women are absolutely against the principle of Shari’ah.
Health and early marriage
“The fatwa is a timely way to arrest early marriage and improve the health indicators in the region,” said Dayang Carlsum Sangkula – Jumaide, assistant secretary of the Department of Health in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DOH-ARMM).
The Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL) states that a girl may be married at the age of puberty or the onset of menarche (first menstruation). A girl is presumed to have reached the age of puberty at 15. The CMPL prescribes the minimum age of marriage for boys to be 15-years old.
Citing statistics, Sangkula – Jumaide said that one in ten Filipino girls between the ages of 15-19 are mothers. “Early marriage opens up sexual activity at a time when girl’s body is still developing. Her uterus is not yet developed to nurture a new life.”
Sangkula-Jumaide added that early marriage also has other effects like depression and stress-related disorders brought about by taking on massive responsibilities like marriage and child-rearing at such a young age. (READ: Ending child marriages, teenage pregnancies, poverty)
National estimates show that 32% of women in ARMM between 15-24 have given birth. Fertility rates in the country are highest in ARMM with women having an average of four children, compared to women in the National Capital Region (NCR) who have an average of two.
Health experts welcomed the fatwa as a way of improving ARMM’s health indicators on maternal and infant mortality.
Klaus Beck, Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), hailed the endorsement of the Fatwa by Islamic leaders, noting that early marriage and the consequent teen pregnancy are among the major causes of maternal mortality.
“Global medical evidence shows that adolescent girls 15 to 19 are twice likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in their 20s. Likewise, infants of adolescent mothers are 50 per cent more likely to die during their first year of life compared to babies of older women,” Beck said.
Kidnap for passion
Women’s groups also gave their position on the fatwa.
“This (fatwa) will give Muslim girls a voice when it comes to forced marriage,” Sittie Jehanne Mutin, chairperson of the Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women (RCBW).
Young Muslim girls being kidnapped is an occurrence in some parts of the ARMM. When a girl is kidnapped and held in the company of a man who is not her relative, she is urged by the family to marry her kidnapper to preserve the family’s honor as well as hers.
“There are various reasons why a girl is kidnapped. Sometimes it is because the boy cannot pay the dowry, sometimes it is to forge peace between two warring families. Other times, it is a case of “kidnap for passion” – a boy kidnaps a girl to coerce her into marriage,” said Mutin.
According to Mutin, the cases of kidnapping of women and young girls is on the decline, presumably due to better awareness and education, and this fatwa will further help in reducing this number.
Another women’s group expressed concern about a physical examination recommended as part of pre-marriage counselling just being an excuse to conduct virginity tests.
Nonetheless, the challenge now is “popularizing” the fatwa and cascading it down to the grassroots where early marriage is most likely to happen and where Muslim youth are least likely to have access to sexual health education. (READ: Inequality in Asia and what it looks like)
In 2004, a fatwa was released endorsing contraception and family planning, particularly to promote birth spacing and safeguarding the health of both the mother and child. – Rappler.com