The tragic case of a 16-year-old child bride who attempted suicide should prompt Lebanon’s parliament to finally pass a law ending child marriage in the country.

The parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 27, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Media and other reports say the girl jumped from the roof of her parents’ house in the border town of Arsal earlier this month after her husband divorced her and “returned her” to her parents. Her condition was reported as critical.

The girl was reportedly forced to marry her cousin at the age of 14. After the divorce, her parents allegedly forbade her from leaving the house and from continuing her education.

This child is one of thousands of young girls in Lebanon who are married before 18. Lebanon has no minimum age for marriage. Instead, religious courts set the age based on personal status laws, some of which allow girls younger than 15 to be married. There is clear evidence on the lifelong harmful effects of child marriage on girls, which include poorer education and work prospects, increased risk of marital rape and domestic violence, and serious health problems due to early childbearing.

A draft law introduced in parliament in March 2017 would set the minimum age for marriage at 18 with no exceptions, consistent with international human rights standards. But progress on its passage has stalled.

Following political opposition to the law, Lebanon’s minister for human rights submitted a new draft that would set the marriage age at 18, but allow for marriages of 16 to 17-year-olds with the approval of a civil judge. The law would also penalize all religious judges who registered marriages of under 18s without the permission of a civil judge. The new draft was approved by Lebanon’s Administration and Justice sub-committee in May, but it has yet to be debated in Parliament.

While this law would improve on the current situation, Parliament should commit to ending child marriage without any exceptions and place the issue on its agenda for the next legislative session. The lives of girls in Lebanon are on the line.