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Personal Status Law to be reviewed

Family law covering such matters as marriage, divorce and custody of children is being modified by the Jordanian government in order to help improve the status of women.

The Personal Status Law was introduced in 2001 but is now being amended because of concern that it isn't securing the level of protection that it was supposed to.

"The Personal Status Law is a very important law since it organises all matters related to the family. The [recent] round table was to discuss amendments to some articles of the law, concerning raising the age of marriage for both girls and boys to 18-years-old and rights of women regarding divorce etc.," Maha Homsi of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) told IRIN from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

The number of early marriages has decreased in Jordan since the introduction of the law in 2001but the reduction has not been as high as was hoped. The total number has fallen from 20 percent of all marriages in 1998 (37,681) down to 15 percent of marriages (33,365) in 2004.

This is believed to be because the legislation allows certain exemptions and the right to these exemptions is widely exercised, Homsi explained.

Current practice indicates that a judge can still allow children under the age of 18 to marry and these exceptions are becoming more frequent, according to the UN agency.

However, UNICEF has commended the efforts made by the government, especially in raising the age of marriage of both boys and girls from 16 and 15 years respectively, to 18 years.

There is no firm data as to why families tend to marry-off their girls at a young age but it is believed that the worsening economic situation of families plays a major role. This may be coupled with the family's fear for its honour and little value being placed on the education of women.

Some 14 percent of the population live below the poverty line, according to the government but some aid agencies believe the real level to be around 25 percent.

Experts say one of the consequences of early marriage is that it can hinder progress later in life.

"The negative impact of early marriage is depriving girls from education. The majority would drop out of school when married. There are also many health hazards for women's health from early pregnancy and higher risk of morbidity and mortality," Homsi said.

"We know that some parents still believe that girls' education is a wasted investment as a girl will eventually get married and leave the household to raise her children," a statement from the agency said.

In addition, early marriage runs against core components of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The promotes a variety of rights including freedom of choice, the opportunity for personal development, health, well-being, education and participation of the child.

UNICEF also stressed that the media has a role to play in raising awareness of the negative implications of early marriage and that parents need to understand that school is a safe and suitable environment for their teenage daughters.

"Equipping children with knowledge helps them to be active citizens and to protect themselves and, in turn, their children," the statement added.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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