Egypt imam accused of marrying off underage girls

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An imam in Egypt faces a disciplinary hearing over accusations that he married off 27 underage girls, the administrative prosecution authority which monitors civil servants including imams said on Monday.

Egyptian law prohibits the registered marriage of men and women under 18, although it does not prohibit informal marriages that are not officially registered.

"The crime comes under the category of human trafficking cases," said Mohamed Samir, spokesman for the authority.

The imam was allegedly "implicated in the marriages of nearly 27 minor" females, Samir said.

The cleric presided over El-Arbaeen mosque in Meet Habeeb village in the Nile delta province of Al-Gharbiya north of Cairo.

News of the case comes after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed shock at the number of minors being married, highlighted in official figures released on Saturday.

"I was surprised that the number of married 12-year-olds was not small," Sisi said.

"This is something that pains me and pains anyone with a real conscience who cares for their sons and daughters."

According to the 2017 census, up to 118,000 girls under the legal age of 18 were married, statistics bureau chief Abo Bakr el-Gendy said on Saturday.

The administrative prosecution began investigating the imam after a mother issued a complaint against him, it said.

The mother complained that he had "married off her daughter and many minor girls under the legal age in informal marriages," a statement from the authority said.

The ministry of religious endowments has decided to "prevent this preacher from ascending to the pulpit or leading people in mosques", ministry spokesman Gaber Tayea told AFP.

The ministry also "referred him to the ethics committee" in preparation for his possible dismissal if the allegations are proven, Tayea added.

The health ministry is currently preparing a bill that would prohibit the registration of informal marriage contracts for minors, and punish those found to be involved in them.

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