13-Year-Old Lebanese Girl Married to Kidnapper to Pay Father’s Debt
Eva, 13, was a victim of a reprehensible crime. Kidnapped as a way to collect her father’s financial debt, she was forced to marry her kidnapper’s son.
On her bedroom door at her family’s home in Dahiyeh, the southern suburbs of Beirut, Eva has hung a giant picture of the animated character Dora the Explorer. Next to it, she has drawn flowers to spell out her name. Whoever sees these drawings can easily tell the age of the girl who drew them.
Eva is not even 13. Her father Hussein describes her to Al-Akhbar as “a good student, the youngest child, and an only girl among her four male siblings.”
Yet, recently, something happened in Eva’s life that changed her forever. She is no longer a middle-school student. She has now undergone a kidnapping and been raped. She is now the wife of her kidnapper’s son, a commodity to be traded for her father’s debt. As intermediaries told the girl’s family, Eva is now “legally” married to an adult man.
The story began two weeks ago, when Eva was kidnapped from the street in front of her house. According to her father, she was on her way to buy a bag of bread. It was a good while before her family realized that she had disappeared. When they finally figured out that she had been kidnapped, they automatically knew who the kidnappers were “given that there are financial problems between the kidnapper Hussein M. and myself,” said Eva’s father.
“Twenty days prior to the kidnapping, I had mortgaged my car to the kidnapper, given him a piece of land that I own as a guarantee, and signed a bond for the rest of the debt which amounted to $38,000,” said the father, adding that the kidnapper Hussein M. “worked with me again in car sales after this agreement, but then suddenly kidnapped my daughter.”
According to one lawyer and civil rights activist, the girl was used as a means to retrieve a debt, which boils down to human trafficking. The lawyer refused to give her name because she has her doubts about the intentions of Eva’s father. She finds it strange that he “would wait six days before he exposed the story of his daughter’s kidnapping.”
As if kidnapping and locking up a child as repayment on a debt was not bad enough, the girl was raped and forced into marriage. Two days after the kidnapping, the kidnapper promised to return the girl after her father signed another bond in the amount of the debt. But instead, he married Eva to his 27-year-old son Hussein.
Proud of his accomplishment, the kidnapper told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “So what if my son fell in love with his daughter and married her according to the Quran and the Sunna?”
But does the Quran and the Sunna allow the kidnapping and rape of a girl to be considered as grounds for marriage? Doesn’t Islamic law require the consent of her guardian or legal representative? How could a cleric issue a marriage certificate without meeting all the conditions imposed by Islamic law?
The courts will answer some of these questions now that the father has filed a complaint against Hussein M. in a Roueiss police station.
But these questions have no place in tribal logic. Eva’s father was told, “What’s done is done … The girl is now in the custody of another clan, and it will bring us great shame to bring her back.”
Sheikh Hassan al-Mawla, who married the couple, fails to see the problem. “She was married according the the Quran and Sunna, and it was a lawful marriage because she agreed to marry the young man. She knew him for a year and was not opposed to the marriage,” the cleric told Al-Akhbar. “I took the girl to the side and told her, ‘If you don’t approve, I will take you with me and no one will dare touch you in my house, and I will return you to your family.’”
Mawla said that he relied on the juridical opinion that “allows the marriage of an unmarried girl without her guardian’s consent.” When asked who among the religious authorities allows the marriage of a minor without her guardian’s consent, he said without hesitation that it was the late Sayyid Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
“Girls today have access to advanced technology and [things like the] WhatsApp messaging application. Even if they are young, they understand things better than a 50-year-old woman. Eva is a smart girl and the marriage was performed with her consent; it was not coerced, otherwise I would not have done it.”
What if the father refuses to bless this marriage and wants to take back his daughter? Mawla replied: “In my opinion, they should recognize the marriage and allow it to continue. We worry about our daughters until our dying day. It is by the grace of God that Eva was courted by a good young man.”
Perhaps Mawla did not properly understand Fadlallah’s opinion. According to Sayyid Jaafar Fadlallah, the son of the Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, there is a religious edict that allows an unmarried woman to marry without the consent of her guardian “but as long as two conditions are met: puberty and maturity.”
He told Al-Akhbar, “If the unmarried girl is not an adult and a mature woman, then the marriage contract cannot be performed. If it is performed, then it is unlawful.”
What about Eva’s marriage? Fadlallah said: “It is difficult to talk about adulthood and maturity in the case of that girl, even if she has reached puberty. Maturity, reasonableness, and discretion mean that she is aware and conscious and cannot be fooled. This girl, however, is a minor, and in any case, a minor cannot be married without the consent of her guardian, even if she has reached puberty.”
Fadlallah said, “The principle is that, at this age, one cannot speak of adulthood, so if a marriage contract is performed, then it is unlawful, and if a man marries her without her father’s consent, then the marriage is unlawful.”
An unlawful marriage cannot be registered in Islamic courts. According to Sheikh Mohammed Kanaan, a consultant in the Jaafari court: “The court does not register the marriage of a girl without the permission of her father or guardian pursuant to the religious edicts of accredited jurists, first among them, Ali al-Sistani.”
Eva’s story, however, is not merely about marriage and its codes. Her case includes rape, abuse, and coercion.