Abdullah, 32, along with his wife and her family, agreed that she would file a lawsuit to validate their marriage in court before their wedding, turning this lawsuit into a crucial step they must take as part of their wedding preparations.
The entire procedure was done quickly and did not need a long wait time or any complicated identification papers; just a medical report attesting that the woman is pregnant in her fourth month attached to the lawsuit application. The Sharia judge would then look into the matter and quickly make a decision, and, unlike all other cases, the whole thing may not even need more than one appointment.
A fake pregnancy
Abdullah fled mandatory military service in 2018 to settle down near his family. He grew up during the devastating war that has been raging in Syria since 2011. When it started, he was 21 years old, and wasn’t really thinking about getting married before the war came to an end, were it not for his mother’s insistence that he start a family, the years passed without even the smallest hint indicating that the war might soon end.
When he finally proposed to the girl he loved, the first question that her parents asked was about his military service, and how the marriage — and the children later on — will be officially registered within government departments, since the groom evaded his military service and is therefore legally convicted of the crime of “military desertion” which is punishable by imprisonment. In this case, he wouldn’t be unable to enter any official department for fears of being arrested and brought before the legal system.
Speaking to Raseef22, Abdullah said, “After consulting with relatives and lawyers, it was agreed that there would be a “Katb el-Kitab” with a sheikh, where a legal union would be held, and then the bride would file a claim to officially validate the marriage. One of the requirements and expedited papers needed in such a case is for the bride to attach a medical report issued by a gynecologist stating she is pregnant. The longer into the pregnancy the woman is, the more inclined the judge is to agree that the marriage must be validated without the need to verify the validity of the pregnancy by referring the plaintiff to a medical examiner.”
Marwa, 27, experienced the same situation when Ammar proposed to her, a young man who had failed to enlist in the compulsory military service. She tells Raseef22 that she discussed the issue of validating their marriage before even telling her family. She had been afraid of her family’s refusal to validate the marriage by filing this legal application, because these are often used in cases that society does not approve of, such as the shunned at “secret marriages - customary marriages (nikah ‘urfi)”. But she managed to convince them, through appointing her great-uncle as her “legal guardian”.
The process was finalized following the death of her father. Her uncle accompanied her to a gynecologist’s clinic that he personally knew in order to obtain a medical report saying she was pregnant in the fourth month. The young woman, who has been married for five years now without having gotten pregnant even once, says, “If the judge had requested that I be referred to a medical examiner to confirm the pregnancy, they would have discovered that I am a virgin and that I even suffer from uterine issues that prevent pregnancy. If that had happened, both the doctor and I would have been accused of forgery at the very least, but judges today know that these cases are made through mutual agreement between the two parties to validate a marriage that can only legally take place this way.”
Legalizing the forbidden
Despite the restrictions that the Syrian government imposed two years ago on marriage outside the courts (katb el-kitab with a sheikh), and raising the legal age of marriage, this did not prevent underage marriages, as they are also often done through lawsuits to validate a marriage using a pregnancy claim.
Osama, who married a 16-year-old girl, tells Raseef22, “I live with my parents, and I am their only son with six older sisters who are all married. When I turned 21, my father decided that it was time for me to get married, and my mother then began searching for the most suitable girl for me, and of course it was necessary for her to be several years younger than me. It was finally decided that I would propose to my cousin, who is studying at a religious secondary school. For my mother, her choice ticked several boxes; she is young and religious and is directly related to me, and this means that she will be a good wife, and the engagement and marriage ceremony took place in just under two months.”
Osama further elaborates, “It was not difficult to find a sheikh who would accept conducting a marriage contract outside the official Sharia court, even though it is forbidden. One of my relatives is an imam in a mosque in a Damascene neighborhood. The agreement with my uncle (father of the underage bride) was based on the condition that we validate the marriage through a lawsuit, and the whole thing was quickly concluded after my wife obtained a report from a gynecologist that all the women in the family go to, confirming that she was pregnant in the third month. A few days later, the legal marriage took place without the need for any premarital checkups, and without any questions being raised over the bride’s young age.”
It wasn’t difficult to find a sheikh who’d accept conducting a marriage contract outside Sharia courts. My wife got a report from a gynecologist confirming she was pregnant, and the legal marriage took place quickly without the need for premarital checkups
For Khaled, the story went quite differently, as he and his wife’s family decided that the marriage would be validated after she had reached the legal age. They reasoned that there was no need for it now, and if they had any children during that time, then registering them would be easy through paying the fines for the delay. In this case, he will have to try to postpone any pregnancies, since — a year after they had gotten married — his wife is still at the young age of fifteen while he is twenty-two, and they are both still young and have the right to live their ‘beautiful lives’, as he puts it, adding that perhaps at the age of eighteen she’ll be allowed to become pregnant. He says that this isn’t related to any health concerns for her regarding her young age, as she is — from his point of view — just like other women, and “once she reaches puberty, she can become pregnant”. And to him, puberty here is strictly biological, that is , it began with her menstruation cycle like all other women.
In Syrian law, it is not permissible to marry anyone under the age of eighteen, male or a female. This condition cannot be violated except with the consent of the guardian. The latest amendment to the personal status law has prohibited the girl’s guardian from permitting marriage without her explicit consent, even if there was a signed legal delegation (wakalah) from her.
The law requires papers that include “a registration statement for the spouses, a medical report proving that they are free from diseases, a marriage approval for volunteer soldiers (non-compulsory conscripts), and an approval from the Ministry of Interior in the event that one of the spouses is a foreigner”.
However, these documents are not required in case a claim is submitted to validate a marriage due to pregnancy, and this is the reason why those who wish to bypass the law or circumvent it resort to this particular method.
One of the lawyers he contacted said: “The decision to appeal is based on a medical report for the court that is deciding on the case. There are judges who insist that the report confirming the pregnancy must be issued by a government hospital, and there are judges who are satisfied with the couple’s confirmation of the marriage for it to be validated. But in the case of marriage with an underage girl, most judges require the existence of an apparent pregnancy or birth resulting from the marriage for it to be verified. An apparent pregnancy is approved through a medical report confirming its presence. And in the event that there is no pregnancy and the couple resort to confirming that the marriage has occurred before the judge, then he may approve the marriage and decide on suspension until the minor reaches the legal age.”
With regard to those who are deserters or defectors from compulsory military service, the lawyer — who asked to remain anonymous — confirms that “issuing a legal delegation (wakalah) to a lawyer is sufficient for the latter to represent his client in the procedure of validating the marriage. And since confirming the marriage does not require a status statement of one’s compulsory military service or a copy of their criminal record, the judge does not pay much attention to this issue, and this facilitates the process of confirming these types of marriages.”
Bending or circumventing the law through “filing a lawsuit to validate a marriage” has made it easier for many to get married, even though they are wanted by security forces for the crime of “evading compulsory service” or the misdemeanor of failing to report for military duty, bearing in mind that Syrian young men are obligated to serve eighteen months of military service when they reach the age of eighteen, unless one postpones his service for compelling reasons or is exempted from them for legally established conditions. Meanwhile this case (of validating a marriage) helps violate the laws using the very same law, leaving underage minors married off in a society where a large segment of it still sees that a “girl’s marriage is her shield and protection”, and does not find any issue in a girl getting married once she has reached ‘biological maturity’.
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