Sitting alone in her gloomy room, 17-year-old Mariam recalled the year and a half she spent at the house of her husband, whom she was forced to marry when she was 15 to escape poverty. As Mariam gazed at the small doll in her hands, suddenly her mind was flooded with memories in which she was continuously beaten and verbally abused in the house of her husband. Her father’s voice, however, interrupted this chain of memories.
“Mariam!” he shouted. She rushed to answer him. He told her, firmly, “You should return to your husband’s house no matter what he did to you. You should learn to accept this. Do you understand?!” As she spoke to Al-Monitor, Mariam, a girl with flawless olive skin, described this scene in her own sad words, giving details of the bitter experience of her marriage to a 37-year-old man. Her father forced her to marry him after he became unable to meet her basic living needs and educational requirements. In 2012, of about 17,000 marriages were registered in the courts of the Gaza Strip, 35% were cases in which the brides were under 17 years old. These marriages are concluded without the courts knowing the girls’ real ages. Meanwhile, about 2,700 divorce cases were registered in the same year, and in 25% of these the wives were underage, Bakr Azzam, a lawyer specializing in Sharia issues, told Al-Monitor. Mariam explained that due to her young age she wasn’t capable of meeting the demands of married life. “I was taken away from my small toys, taken out of my school forcibly and delivered to my husband whom I had only seen once, in front of the judge who officiated my marriage contract,” she added.