CAIRO: The Ministry of Social Affairs has denied reporting statistics or conducting research on orfi marriages, as Al-Ahram newspaper’s April 16 edition had claimed.
The article said that the ministry’s sessions with students across Egyptian universities revealed a “horrifying 355,000 students, or 17 percent of the student body are involved in orfi marriages – a secret, unregistered way of getting married. It further claimed that more than 14,000 babies have been born to unofficially recognized fathers.
The report failed to mention which universities were involved or how the research was conducted.
Multiple representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, including specialists in the Research Center and Family and Childhood departments, told The Daily Star Egypt that the ministry has neither gathered statistics concerning orfi marriage nor has it conducted any research into it, despite the report’s claim that the statistics were official.
When contacted by The Daily Star Egypt, the Al-Ahram reporter who wrote the story Heba Abdel Aziz said she would not be able to reveal the department or representative from which she received the information, saying that it was “secret information.
American University in Cairo Sociology Professor Madiha El-Safty told The Daily Star Egypt that she questioned the figures. “We have no way of knowing . It’s supposed to be a secret, so how did they get these numbers?
Still, she added that she would not necessarily be surprised if orfi marriages were indeed that common. “Most people can’t afford to get married, she said, adding that it was mostly the middle class getting married in this way to give legitimacy to a “normal desire for a relationship.
Among upper classes, she explains, students may less frequently marry orfi in order to marry someone not approved of by their parents.
She is, however, more skeptical about the claim that there could be as many as 14,000 babies born into such secret marriages. “Where do they keep them? she asked.
In a separate statistic however, Egyptian courts witnessed 14,000 parenthood-proving cases in 2005, though registered marriages accounted for 40 percent of the cases, Lamiaa Lotfy of the New Woman Foundation told The Daily Star Egypt in a previous interview.
The topic of orfi marriages resurged last year when Hind El-Hinnawy claimed that actor and talk show host Ahmed Al-Fishawy fathered her daughter during their orfi marriage. Al-Fishawy admitted in the end that the daughter may be his, but denied legal responsibility and the marriage.
Most Islamic religious scholars agree that orfi marriage is un-Islamic by virtue of its being secret. Islam requires a marriage be announced and observed by at least two witnesses.