Does Egypt's Law Protect 'Short-Term Brides' Or Formalize Trafficking? : Parallels Egypt has vowed stricter enforcement of a law requiring foreign men to pay if they marry much younger women. Activists say the country enshrines a practice that amounts to sex trafficking.
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Does Egypt's Law Protect 'Short-Term Brides' Or Formalize Trafficking?

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Does Egypt's Law Protect 'Short-Term Brides' Or Formalize Trafficking?

Does Egypt's Law Protect 'Short-Term Brides' Or Formalize Trafficking?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's hear about an issue that's altogether different in Egypt. Older, wealthy men - many from the Gulf states, spend a few thousand dollars for a few months with young brides. Many of the women are then abandoned. Egypt's justice ministry says it will begin enforcing a law that requires those men to at least pay up front and also up the amount they pay. But NPR's Leila Fadel reports human rights groups say it's just institutionalizing exploitation.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hind is 27 years old, and she's ashamed. Because of that, she asks me only to use her first name when she recounts her story.

HIND: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Two years ago, a marriage broker came to the one room apartment that she, her four sisters, her invalid father and her ailing mother shared. Hind worked to support them all on less than a hundred dollars a month.

HIND: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Hind says the broker spoke to her father. And when he left, her father explained. A 59-year-old Saudi man wanted to marry a young Egyptian woman. And he's pay just under $2,000 to marry Hind for two months while he was visiting Egypt.

HIND: (Through interpreter) He said, Hind, you see the life that we're living and what this money will do for us. I said, OK, I will do it.

FADEL: Her mother pleaded with her not to do it. But Hind thought the money could go to medicine for her sick mom and to help her sisters. She'd quickly realize she made a mistake.

HIND: (Through interpreter) I was disgusted by him. I was with a man older than my father. But it didn't matter. I'd already sold myself, sacrificed myself to rescue my family.

FADEL: She cries often during the conversation. A few weeks after the marriage, her mother died, she believes of sadness. When the agreed-upon two months was over, she moved back in with her family, now in a slightly bigger apartment in a new neighborhood, where people wouldn't know her story.

HIND: (Through interpreter) I was an innocent girl who believed in love and marriage. Now I hate the word marriage.

FADEL: Last month, Egypt's justice minister issued a decision that was presented as a way of protecting women like Hind. It said it would start strictly enforcing a rule that requires a payment up front for any man coming from abroad to marry an Egyptian woman 25 years or more younger than he is. It increased the amount to the equivalent of just under $6,400 that would be invested in an Egyptian bank in the woman's name. But rights advocates say this isn't a solution; the money formalizes sex trafficking and forced marriages.

AMR ABDEL RAHMAN: It is an industry, especially in the north of the country, whereby you have kind of tourism marriage.

FADEL: That's Amr Abdel Rahman, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. What he calls tourism marriage is older men, usually from wealthy, Arab Gulf countries who typically have wives at home, come to Egypt to buy a wife, often temporarily. It peaks in the summer. He says the amended regulations will just benefit those hired to seek out poor families for the marriages.

RAHMAN: Those brokers actually, their business will flourish in light of that decision.

FADEL: With the government enforcing the regulation and increasing the amount paid, he says, the brokers' work will be even more profitable. They'll get more money, and so will Egyptian banks.

RAHMAN: It's basically making everyone profit without providing any kind of protection to the girls. These girls need medical protections. These girls need kind of a social network or a social safety network. These are not there.

FADEL: And one marriage broker that NPR spoke to says she expects little to change anyway. She asks us not to use her name because she brokers the marriages off the books, and the men don't pay the required government fees.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Her business is small. She brokers a deal every couple months. But she says there are whole offices dedicated to this business.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: She says she's seen fathers force their daughters into the marriages because they have nothing, not even a bed to sleep on. And she says she does the work for the same reason, to support her family. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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