Algeria: Forced marriage, including early marriage; prevalence; situation of women who attempt to escape forced marriage and how those women are treated; state protection and support services (2020-July 2020) [DZA201103.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform (ministère de la Santé, de la Population et de la Réforme hospitalière) in Algeria with the support of UNICEF and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the average age at marriage in Algeria is 27.1 years for women and 33.9 years for men (Algeria Dec. 2020, ii, 127). The Centre for Information and Documentation on the Rights of Children and Women (Centre d'information et de documentation sur les droits de l'enfant et de la femme, CIDDEF), an Algiers-based NGO (CIDDEF n.d.), reports that the average age at marriage for women has [translation] "increased significantly" (CIDDEF 2021, 11). Sources report that this is partly attributable to a rise in women's education level (CIDDEF 2021, 11; US 27 June 2022) as well as their greater independence (CIDDEF 2021, 11) or increased labour market participation (US 27 June 2022). The US CIA World Factbook 2022 also lists a "higher" unemployment rate and a "shortage of housing forcing multiple generations to live together" as contributing factors (US 27 June 2022).

Amnesty International reports that Algeria's Penal Code (Code pénal) and Family Code (Code de la famille) [Amnesty International English version] "discriminate" against women, including in matters of marriage and divorce (Amnesty International 29 Mar. 2022, 91).

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021 indicates the following regarding early marriage and related Algerian legislation:

The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry if there is parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor's will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies. (US 12 Apr. 2022, 41)

1.1 Prevalence

Information on statistics concerning forced marriage in Algeria was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In an interview with the Research Directorate, a lawyer and women's rights advocate in Algeria stated that forced marriages [translation] "barely [happen] anymore" in Algeria, and that a CIDDEF survey conducted around two years ago found that occurrence was [translation] "negligible to nil" in Algeria as a whole (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). According to the same source, this is attributable to the amendments made to the Family Code and changing mindsets within Algerian society, as well as to the increase in the education level of women, who are becoming increasingly aware of their rights (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

Globally, 21 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18, and 5 percent were married before the age of 15, according to Global Affairs Canada (Canada 20 Aug. 2020). Regarding statistics on early marriage in Algeria, the 2019 MICS found the following:

  Women aged 20 to 49 Women aged 20 to 24
Married before age 15 0.2% 0.0%
Married before age 18 3.9% 3.8%

(Algeria Dec. 2020, 344)

The lawyer stated that early marriage is [translation] "exceptional" in Algeria and that it may happen only following the rape of a minor girl, when the rapist marries the victim using the Penal Code provision that provides for this situation (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). According to the same source, early marriage is also possible when the family demands it after consensual sex between two minors; however, in such a case, a judge's authorization and the consent of both minors concerned are required (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

2. Treatment of Women Who Attempt to Escape Forced Marriage or Early Marriage

Information on the treatment of women who attempt to escape forced marriage or early marriage was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The lawyer stated that adult women attempting to escape forced marriage can file a complaint with the police and that their complaints are generally well received, with the appropriate enquiries and investigations conducted before the case is referred to the public prosecutor's office to then be heard before a court of competent jurisdiction (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). The same source added that the situation in this regard has [translation] "improved considerably" since the adoption of a law punishing violence against women (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). However, El Watan, an Algerian French-language newspaper, reporting on violence against women in general states that when victims want to file a complaint, they face various barriers and [translation] "misunderstandings" and must deal with a "scattered" case management protocol involving "several actors" whose coordination is "weak," according to a representative of the UNFPA (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020).

3. State Protection
3.1 Legislation

The Family Code, adopted in 1984 and amended in 2007, provides the following:

[translation]

Art. 4. (Amended) – Marriage is a consensual contract between a man and a woman in legal form. Among its purposes are to start a family based on affection, kindness and mutual help, to provide moral protection for the spouses and to preserve family ties.

Art. 7. (Amended) – The capacity to contract marriage is deemed valid at 19 years of age for both man and woman. However, a judge may grant an exemption with regard to age requirements for a reason of interest or in case of necessity, when two parties are deemed fit for marriage.

The minor spouse acquires the capacity to sue for the rights and obligations resulting from the marriage contract.

Art. 11. (Amended) – The adult woman concludes her marriage contract in the presence of her "wali," who is her father or a close relative or any other person of her choice.

Art. 16. – The consummation of the marriage or the death of the spouse entitles the wife to the full amount of her dowry.

She is entitled to half of the dowry in the event of divorce before consummation.

Art. 48. (Amended) – Divorce is the dissolution of marriage, subject to the provisions of article 49 below. It is effected at the behest of the husband, by mutual consent of both spouses, or at the request of the wife within the limits set forth in articles 53 and 54 hereof.

Art. 49. (Amended) – Divorce may be effected only by a judgment preceded by several attempts by the judge to secure reconciliation between the parties, over a period that shall not exceed three (3) months from the initiation of proceedings.

The judge shall draw up minutes, duly signed by him, the clerk and the parties, in which the acts and outcomes of the reconciliation attempts are recorded.

Divorce judgments must be transcribed in the civil registry at the behest of the public prosecutor.

Art. 53. (Amended) – The wife may ask for a divorce for the following reasons:

  1. non-payment of judgment-ordered spousal support, unless the wife was aware of her husband's indigence at the time of the marriage subject to articles 78, 79 and 80 hereof;
  2. infirmity preventing the realization of the purpose of the marriage;
  3. the husband's refusal to share his wife's bed for a period of more than four (4) months;
  4. the husband's conviction for an offence of such a nature as to dishonour the family and make cohabitation and the resumption of marital life impossible;
  5. an absence of more than one (1) year without reasonable excuse or provision of maintenance;
  6. violation of the provisions of article 8 above [1];
  7. an established immoral, severely reprehensible act;
  8. persistent disagreement between the spouses;
  9. violation of the clauses stipulated in the marriage contract; or
  10. any legally recognized harm.

Art. 54. (Amended) – The wife may separate from her husband, without his consent, on payment of financial compensation (khol'â).

In case of disagreement on the compensation, the judge shall order the payment of a sum, the amount of which shall not exceed the value of the dowry "sadaq el mithl" assessed on the date of the judgment.

Art. 55. – In the event that either spouse abandons the marital home, the judge shall grant the divorce and the right to damages and interest to the injured party.

Art. 58. – A non-pregnant woman divorced after consummation of the marriage must observe a legal period of waiting, the duration of which is three cycles of menstrual purity. The legal period of waiting for a divorced woman who no longer has menstrual periods is three months from the date of the declaration of divorce.

Art. 59. – The legal period of waiting for a woman whose husband predeceases her shall be four months and ten days. The same applies to a woman whose husband is declared missing, as of the date on which the judgment establishing the disappearance is pronounced.

Art. 60. – The legal period of waiting for a pregnant woman lasts until her delivery. The maximum duration of pregnancy is 10 months from the date of the divorce or the death of the husband.

Art. 61. – A divorced woman and a woman whose husband has predeceased her must not leave the marital home during her legal period of waiting except in the case of a duly established immoral act. A divorced woman is entitled to alimony during her legal period of waiting.

Art. 87. – (Amended) – The father is the guardian of his minor children.

Upon his death, guardianship reverts to the mother by right.

In the event of his absence or incapacity, the mother stands in for the father to carry out acts of an urgent nature concerning the children.

In the event of divorce, the judge shall grant guardianship to the parent who has been granted custody of the children. (Algeria 1984, in bold in the original)

In a publication by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) [2], Nadia Ait-Zai, a lecturer in family law at the University of Algiers, women's rights advocate and founder of the CIDDEF (EuroMed Feminist Initiative n.d.), states that the Family Code promotes [translation] "the inferiority and legal incapacity of women," requiring women to "obey" their husbands, who are the "head of the family," and "to submit to the authority and accept the guardianship" of their husband or, if not, of their father, a "close relative" or a judge (Ait-Zai 2021, 5). The same source states that the amendments made by the National Assembly in 2005 were [translation] "weak" and "dismissed by some women's associations," which had advocated its repeal (Ait-Zai 2021, 5).

Article 326 of the Penal Code of 1966 (amended in 2015) specifies the following:

Art. 326. – Any person who, without violence, threats or deceit, abducts or attempts to abduct a minor under 18 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment of one (1) to five (5) years and fined five hundred (500) to two thousand (2,000) DA [Algerian dinars] [C$4.38 to C$17.54].

When a minor who is abducted in this manner marries her abductor, the abductor may be prosecuted only upon a complaint filed by the persons entitled to request the annulment of the marriage and may be sentenced only after the annulment has been pronounced. (Algeria 1966)

According to Amnesty International, [Amnesty International English version] "this provision grants impunity to some rapists and may facilitate both rape and the forced marriage of girls" (Amnesty International 11 May 2022, para. 42). In an article published in Liberté, an Algerian French-language daily newspaper that ceased publication in April 2022 (AFP 14 Apr. 2022), lawyer and university instructor Hakim Saheb also states that this article constitutes [translation] "[a] provision that institutionalizes total impunity for aggressors and other repeat offenders" (Saheb 13 Feb. 2021).

The lawyer similarly indicated that this provision [translation] "outright incites" the commission of rape, in that the rapist can no longer be legally prosecuted once the marriage to his victim is made official (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). According to the lawyer, the victim can refuse the marriage or her family can have it annulled at any time to initiate prosecution for the rape, but this scenario remains [translation] "rar[e]" when the aggressor is acquainted with or close to the family, which leads the family to force the minor girl to agree to marry her rapist so as to avoid dishonour and stigmatization by Algerian society (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

3.2 Government Measures

Information on government measures against forced marriage and early marriage in Algeria was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

US Country Reports 2021 indicates that the Algerian government provides a subsidy for divorced women whose former husbands fail to make the child support payments they are entitled to (US 12 Apr. 2022, 38).

According to the lawyer, the Algerian state does not provide for legal mechanisms for [translation] "automatic [case] referral (auto-saisine)" to protect adult women who refuse to be married by force; for the court and the public prosecutor to intervene in the case of an adult woman she must initiate the procedure herself by filing a complaint with the police (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). However, the same source noted that the process of filing a complaint is straightforward because police officers are sufficiently trained on matters relating to violence against women, including those relating to forced marriage (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). El Watan also reports that there is an emergency number for police or gendarmerie security services, though it is not reserved exclusively for cases of violence, and the Ministry of Solidarity operates the 1527 toll-free hotline (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020).

The lawyer explained that after complaints are filed, the process for protecting victims is [translation] "severely" lacking in Algeria, in that there are not enough shelters to serve the whole country, and where shelters exist, they have insufficient capacity and inadequate funding (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

Sources report that there are two national women's shelters, which are managed by the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family Affairs and the Status of Women (ministère de la Solidarité nationale, de la Famille et de la Condition de la femme) (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020) or by the state (Ghanem 19 Mar. 2021) and which are located in Bou Ismaïl [Bousmail], in the province [wilaya] of Tipaza, and in Mostaganem (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020; Ghanem 19 Mar. 2021). According to an article published in The Africa Report [3] by Dalia Ghanem, a researcher who studies political and extremist violence, including in Algeria, there are also five temporary shelters, including one in Algiers and another in Oran, with the three others located in Constantine, Skikda and Ouargla (Ghanem 19 Mar. 2021). According to US Country Reports 2021, the government maintained three regional women's shelters, including one in Annaba, with the other two in Tipaza and Mostaganem (US 12 Apr. 2022, 35). However, the lawyer stated that the three shelters in Annaba, Tipaza and Mostaganem are among the [translation] "small local initiatives" and that major shelters are found only in Algiers (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

El Watan, citing comments made by the president of the [Wassila/Avife Network (Réseau Wassila/Avife)] [4], reports that these shelters [translation] "'do not provide everything for victims'" and that some of them "are seen as 'prisons'" with the women being prohibited from working, using a telephone or "even" seeing their children (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020). According to sources, the shelters lack funding, which limits both the number of shelters (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020; Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022) and the number of spaces available (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). The lawyer also stated that women must arrive there on their own and that they can be turned away if there is insufficient space (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

4. Support Services

Information on support services for victims or women attempting to escape forced marriage was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to sources, the CIDDEF maintains call centres for women in 15 of Algeria's 58 provinces (US 12 Apr. 2022, 30, 35) or in [translation] "a number of" regions (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). El Watan also reports that the CIDDEF manages a support and listening centre, as does the [Wassila/Avife Network], whose centre in Draria [translation] "records 100 new cases per year, without counting follow-ups with past victims" (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020). The lawyer noted that the CIDDEF's call centres employ jurists who provide advice and support to victims, assisting them through the steps related to legal proceedings (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

According to El Watan, there are two NGO-owned shelters in Algiers, one of which is run by SOS Women in Distress (SOS femmes en détresse) and the other, Darna, is managed by the National Assembly Against Hogra [5] and for Algerian Women's Rights (Rassemblement national contre la hogra et pour les droits des Algériennes, RACHDA) (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020). The lawyer stated that the Wassila/Avife Network and SOS Women in Distress together manage a large shelter in Algiers, SOS Children's Village (SOS Village d'enfants), which is notably open to women victims of violence (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

With regard to the city of Oran, El Watan reports that there is a [translation] "help line," Karima Senouci, managed by the Algerian Women Claiming Their Rights (Femmes algériennes revendiquant leurs droits, FARD) association (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020). Similarly, the lawyer stated that FARD works with the bar to guide victims through the judicial process and provide psychosocial support (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

El Watan also reports that the [Wassila/Avife Network] and the CIDDEF have toll-free hotlines, where their employees are available [translation] "to listen or provide guidance or support, resources permitting" (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020). The lawyer also noted that religious congregations [translation] "more or less temporarily" take in some victims who are turned away by shelters due to lack of space (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022).

Additionally, the lawyer stated that because of funding issues, [translation] "most" private-sector support services do not last long (Lawyer 1 Aug. 2022). El Watan similarly notes that [translation] "many" listening and support centres for victims have disappeared because "over time, it is difficult to find means of funding" (El Watan 21 Jan. 2020).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] Article 8 of the Family Code addresses [translation] "polygamy" and provides the following:

[translation]

The husband must inform his previous wife and future wife and submit an application to marry to the presiding judge of the court of the place of marital residence.

The presiding judge may authorize the new marriage if he is satisfied that there is mutual consent and that the husband has established just cause and his ability to provide equity and the conditions needed for marital life.

Art. 8 bis. (New) – In cases of fraud, each wife may sue her husband for divorce. (Algeria 1984, in bold in the original)

[2] The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is a "political foundation" that is linked to Germany's Social Democratic Party and that promotes democracy and social programs (Reuters 11 Apr. 2022). The foundation is funded by the German government (FES n.d.).

[3] The Africa Report is a news source published by Jeune Afrique Media Group (The Africa Report 1 Apr. 2020).

[4] The Wassila/Avife Network is a coalition of Algerian associations whose mission is to help women and children experiencing violence and raise social awareness of this issue (Wassila/Avife Network n.d.).

[5] The Panfrancophone Lexicographic Database (Base de données lexicographiques panfrancophone) defines hogra, an Algerian French term, as [translation] "[d]isdain, contempt expressed by the authorities towards the people, injustice, inequity, abuse of power" (Université Laval n.d.).

References

The Africa Report. 1 April 2020. "About Us." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2022]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 14 April 2022. "Algérie: le journal Liberté publie son dernier numéro." [Accessed 2 Aug. 2022]

Ait-Zai, Nadia. 2021. "Le code de la famille empêche l'émancipation des femmes algériennes." Le Code de la famille dans la région MENA. Edited by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. [Accessed 8 July 2022]

Algeria. December 2020. Ministère de la Santé, de la Population et de la Réforme hospitalière. Algérie : enquête par grappes à indicateurs multiples [MICS] 2019. Rapport final des résultats. [Accessed 1 Aug. 2022]

Algeria. 1984 (amended 2007). Code de la famille. [Accessed 28 June 2022]

Algeria. 1966 (amended 2015). Code pénal. [Accessed 4 July 2022]

Amnesty International. 11 May 2022. Algérie : rétrécissement de l'espace civique. Présentation d’informations à la 41e session du groupe de travail sur l’EPU, 7-18 novembre 2022. (MDE 28/5313/2022) [Accessed 12 July 2022]

Amnesty International. 29 March 2022. "Algérie." Amnesty International - Rapport 2021/2022 : la situation des droits humains dans le monde. [Accessed 12 July 2022]

Canada. 20 August 2020. Global Affairs Canada. "Les mariages d'enfants, précoces et forcés." [Accessed 18 July 2022]

Centre d'information et de documentation sur les droits de l'enfant et de la femme (CIDDEF). 2021. Femmes algériennes en chiffres 2020. [Accessed 28 June 2022]

Centre d'information et de documentation sur les droits de l'enfant et de la femme (CIDDEF). N.d. "Le centre CIDDEF." [Accessed 28 June 2022]

El Watan. 21 January 2020. Nassima Oulebsir. "Plaidoyer pour une meilleure lutte contre les violences faites aux femmes." [Accessed 4 Aug. 2022]

EuroMed Feminist Initiative. N.d. "Nadia Ait Zai." [Accessed 8 July 2022]

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). N.d. United States (US) and Canada chapter. "Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung." [Accessed 25 July 2022]

Ghanem, Dalia. 19 March 2021. "COVID-19 Has Exacerbated Algeria's Feminicide Problem." The Africa Report. [Accessed 4 Aug. 2022]

Lawyer, Algeria. 1 August 2022. Interview with the Research Directorate.

Saheb, Hakim. 13 February 2021. "Violences faites aux femmes ou la discrimination institutionnalisée?" Liberté. [Accessed 4 Aug. 2022]

Réseau Wassila/Avife. N.d. "About". Facebook. [Accessed 5 Aug. 2022]

Reuters. 11 April 2022. "German Foundation Expelled from Russia Says Will Continue Democracy Work." [Accessed 8 Aug. 2022]

United States (US). 27 June 2022. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Algeria." The World Factbook. [Accessed 28 June 2022]

United States (US). 12 April 2022. Department of State. "Algeria." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2021. [Accessed 28 June 2022]

Université Laval. N.d. Base de données lexicographiques panfrancophone. "Hogra (n.f.)." [Accessed:19 Aug. 2022]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Abu Nawas Algérie; Africa Center for Strategic Studies; Algeria – Embassy of Algeria in Ottawa, Consulate General of Algeria in Montreal, Gendarmerie nationale; Algeria Solidarity Campaign; associate professor at an American university whose research focuses on the status of women in Algeria; associate professor of sociology at an American university whose research focuses on gender studies in Algeria; Association de solidarité avec les femmes algériennes démocrates; BBC correspondent in Algeria; Centre d'études maghrébines en Algérie; Centre d'information et de documentation sur les droits de l'enfant et de la femme; doctoral student at an American university whose research focuses on gender studies in Algeria; Féminicides Algérie; history professor at an American university whose research focuses on contemporary Algeria; Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l'homme; professor at a British university whose research focuses on Arab and Middle Eastern studies; Réseau Wassila/Avife; SOS Femmes en détresse; Voix de femmes.

Internet sites, including: Africa Center for Strategic Studies; Algeria – Gendarmerie nationale, ministère de la Santé, de la Population et de la Réforme hospitalière; Algérie Focus; Algeria Press Service; Al Jazeera; AllAfrica; Arab News; Associated Press; Association de solidarité avec les femmes algériennes démocrates; Austrian Red Cross – ecoi.net; L'Authentique; BBC; Belgium – Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides, Cedoca; Bertelsmann Stiftung; Centre d'études maghrébines en Algérie; Le Citoyen; Le Courrier d'Algérie; La Dépêche; Deutsche Welle; EU – EU Agency for Asylum; L'Expression; Fédération internationale pour les droits humains; Le Figaro; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; France 24; Freedom House; The Guardian; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; International Peace Bureau; Jeune Afrique; Journal de Montréal; Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l'homme; Midi Libre; Minority Rights Group International; Le Monde; The New Humanitarian; Pew Research Center; Quotidien d'Oran; Radio-Canada; Radio France internationale; Le Soir d'Algérie; SOS Femmes en détresse; Le Temps d'Algérie; Transparency International; La Tribune; TV5Monde; UN – Refworld, UNHCR, UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF; US – Library of Congress, Overseas Security Advisory Council, US Embassy in Algeria; Voice of America; Voix de femmes; The Washington Post.