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Human Trafficking Center

Modern Servitude Beneath the Guise of the Islamic Marriage Contract


Mar 2015



by Corey Greer, HTC Associate

Summer Marriage is a phenomenon bridging Islam and slavery that is reported less often than atrocities such as Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 girls or the slaying of 12 Charlie Hebdo employees, but is equally as important. Documentation in the news and in the US Trafficking in Persons Reports show that wealthy businessmen, usually from Gulf States, travel to Egypt in the summer months and arrange temporary marriages to women and girls through marriage brokers. The parents of the women and girls receive a relatively hefty sum (dowry) for the marriage and the broker receives compensation as well.

The victims of summer marriage do not receive economic or social benefits from these marriages and are often harmed in the process.  Susanne Mikhail, a Programme Specialist at UNICEF, observes that, “in poor areas, however, where child marriage is most prevalent, the dowry… turns into a one-way transaction, a clear-cut payment.”  She notes that the primary point of negotiation is the dowry and that the social and economic status of the women does not improve after marriage. [i]

In addition to decreased or stagnant social standing, summer marriage can have a deleterious effect on a woman or girl’s physical and psychological health and inhibit her from a proper education. The most frequently identified barriers to girls’ education are early marriage, domestic servitude and pregnancy— all possible outcomes of summer marriage.

There are various Egyptian and international standards applicable to summer marriages, as well as controversy over whether Islam is to blame in the promulgation of summer marriage in Egypt.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women report on Egypt claims, “tourist marriage… constitutes a new type of trafficking in girls under the cover of marriage.” Depending on the nature of a marriage, it could also fall into one or many categories that the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines as slavery or slavery-like practices—­ including child marriage, domestic servitude, forced marriage, trafficking in persons, and forced prostitution.

Though not specifically targeting summer marriage, the Egyptian government has progressed in combatting child marriage. In 2008, Egypt passed an amendment to the 1996 Promulgating the Child Law which prohibits registering a marriage if under the age of 18. But one can circumvent this law by not registering the marriage or by obtaining falsified birth certificates. The bill states that violators of this law “shall receive disciplinary punishment.” Egypt also passed Regarding Combating Human Trafficking Law No. (64) in 2010, but it does not include discussion of forced, early, or temporary marriage as a type of slavery. In order for this law to be effective in combating summer marriage, the law needs to contain provisions that define specific types of forced marriage as slavery and the provisions must be enforced.

In Egypt, international and domestic laws often fall short in combating family issues, where Shari’a takes precedent.

Forced marriage is contrary to teachings in the Qur’an: the parents and future husband must have consent of the daughter to marry. But consent is often difficult to prove, especially when the daughter receives pressure from her parents. Summer marriage also violates the concept of the dowry. The Qur’an states that the dowry must go to daughter in full, but in summer marriage, the bride rarely receives or benefits from dowry money.

Depending on sectarian and geographical variation, Muslims view the acceptability of child and temporary marriage differently.

Child marriage has been condoned by some clerics in the Middle East, especially within the Shia sect, and condemned by other religious leaders—both citing the Qur’an, historical research on the time of the prophet, and the teachings of the prophet. The Shi’a condone early marriage because the prophet had a 9 year old wife, whereas the Sunni see this as an exceptional case.The dominant sect in Egypt is Sunni.

Muslims also vary in their views of temporary marriage. The Sunni argument cites a famous sermon during the time of the prophet that not only condemns the practice of temporary marriage, but calls for the stoning of a man who has a temporary wife. The Shi’a argue for the validity and utility of temporary marriage.

There is a fundamental divide among Muslims about the validity of the summer marriage contract. But because the teachings of the majority sect in Egypt do not condone the practice of summer marriage, we can conclude that Islam itself is not the culprit.


[i] Mikhail, Susanne Louis B. 2002. “Child Marriage and Child Prostitution: Two Forms of Sexual Exploitation.” Gender and Development 10 (1): 43-9.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC.


Photo: via Creative Commons


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2 Responses to “Modern Servitude Beneath the Guise of the Islamic Marriage Contract”

  1. Women for Wives: State Enabled Exploitation in China and North Korea » True Freedom Foundation

    […] often forced marriage is framed as an issue of culture, socio-economic need, or religion. Yet forced marriage stretches far beyond these perimeters. Indeed, there are cases where forced […]

  2. Women for Wives: State Enabled Exploitation in China and North Korea | Human Trafficking Center

    […] often forced marriage is framed as an issue of culture, socio-economic need, or religion. Yet forced marriage stretches far beyond these perimeters. Indeed, there are cases where forced […]

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