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Is Chad’s marriage proposal policy a setback for women’s rights?

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By Chad Williams

Communities in Africa have over the years dealt with crippling socio-economic issues that have required governments to act accordingly in the interest of boosting their respective economies which in turn would benefit these respective communities

A country that has constantly found itself on the back foot of development is the Republic of Chad. Recently, the country (which I coincidentally happened to share a name with, all thanks to my folks) has been in the spotlight for a policy that has often not raised eyebrows, particularly over women’s rights.

The policy in question emanates from a recent decision taken by officials in the north-central African country which has meant that rejecting a marriage proposal is no longer an option.

For instance, in Mangalmé northeast of Chad, people who reject marriage proposals are now required to pay a fine, known as “amchilini”.

The Higher Islamic Council in Mangalmé has ruled that an amount between $23 (R375) and $39 (R630) for women and $15 (R240) for men is payable for those seeking to ditch an impending commitment.

This means that women are required to pay a much higher fine than male citizens just for simply saying: “No”

According to the Islamic Council, its decision was inspired by the Quran.

However, rights activists are vehemently opposed to the move, particularly in a country where women face widespread discrimination and violence based on ‘traditional and religious customs.

The recent announcement has also seen various Chadian women’s rights groups such as the Chadian Women’s Rights League launching anti-campaigns which include the hashtag #StopAmchilini – this in a bid to denounce the decision.

If you’re thinking, how absurd, it gets more uncanny.

One is left with no choice but to contemplate why in the year 2022 we find ourselves moving decades back in the advancement of women’s rights.

In a country where women’s rights are protected or upheld, Chad needs to re-look at this odd, yet discriminating legislation against women and human beings – especially during a time when the country is facing more burning issues such as lack of freedom, child marriage, violence and female genital mutilation.

Legislation

In 2015, the Immigration and Refugee board of Canada published a paper titled: Chad: Forced marriage in Chad.

This looked at whether an educated woman can flee a forced marriage.

The paper also highlighted the kind of protection that such a woman is offered by the authorities and NGOs.

It also delved into whether an educated woman may live alone in N’Djamena and Moundou.

It further referred to Article 9 of Act No. 006/PR/2002 on the Promotion of Reproductive Health (Loi n°006/PR/2002 portant promotion de la santé de reproduction) which states that “all persons have the right not to be subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of their body in general and of their reproductive organs in particular. All forms of violence such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, domestic violence and sexual abuse of a human being are prohibited.”

Sources reported that a Chadian woman can refuse or flee a forced marriage (1 September 2015; AFDCPT 3 Sept. 2015).

However, according to the President of the Association des Femmes pour le Développement et la culture de la Paix au Tchad (AFDCPT) or translated to “Women’s Association for Development and a Culture of Peace in Chad”, whether a Chadian woman may escape a forced marriage depends on the young girl’s success in informing the legal authorities and human rights organizations, as well as on her financial capacity.

Figures quoted by the United Nations show that 30% of Chadian women between the ages of 20-24 are married before they reach the age of 15.

In that same group, around 14% give birth also before the age of 15. Female genital mutilation, which is practised in most parts of Chad, affects 44 per cent of all women.

Female Genital Mutilation

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is working in the country to reduce the incidence and damage caused by practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

Edwige Adekambi Domingo, the Resident Representative of UNFPA in Chad previously indicated that the persistence of these harmful practices is tied to traditional sociocultural beliefs, adding: “They limit the empowerment of women and adolescent girls and increase their vulnerability and risk to poverty and more discrimination.”

Chad’s pressing issues

Crisis International says despite Chad’s economic woes and its citizens’ frustration with elite impunity, its civil society organisations have struggled to mobilise into a coherent protest movement. But these groups might yet play a more important role if the country undergoes more dramatic and potentially destabilising changes.

Regional conflicts, in combination with environmental degradation, rapid desertification and inter-communal tension over diminishing natural resources, have contributed to exacerbating hunger and poverty in the country, say regional political analysts.

Despite a law passed in 2015 that prohibits child marriages, 60% of women aged between 20 and 24 are often compelled to get married when they are still children, according to figures from Chad’s Institute of Statistics.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) highlighted in a recent report that harmful practices such as FGM and child marriage have harmful consequences on the lives of girls and women: difficult childbirth, risk of fistula, risk of infection with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS, stigma, and sometimes death.

The UN organisation said these rules subjected to women are a serious violation of human rights.

Since the practices are more common in rural areas they perpetuate the cycle of poverty. More often, as married girls are withdrawn from school, they are deprived of proper education and effective participation in the development of their families, communities, and country.

It is therefore vital that lobby groups and women’s rights activists keep the momentum and continue to highlight the injustices that women in Chad face daily.

Chad is a multimedia journalist with the African News Agency (ANA).

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.