Women who refuse marriage proposals in northern Chad will have to pay a fine of up to £30 under a new ruling.
The Higher Islamic Council in the eastern town of Mangalmé has decreed that men must pay £12 and women up to £30 for refusing to marry. Local authorities said the fine, known as “amchilini”, is based on the Quran and follows Sharia law.
The ruling was met with fierce criticism from human rights groups which say it violates a national law that guarantees freedom of marriage. The Chadian Women’s Rights League launched the hashtag #StopAmchilini to pressure national authorities to repeal the law.
“If we have to set fines for free people... it becomes a forced marriage, which we condemn,” the group said in a statement.
“Our voices count,” wrote one person on Twitter. “Religious leaders must not abuse their authority. The consent of marriage must be free.”
Chad has world’s highest child marriage rate
Critics say the law will be used to penalise under-age girls who are frequently forced into marriage with older men in the central African country.
Chad, which is in the middle of the Sahara Desert, has the highest rate of child marriage in the world – 70 per cent of girls are married before they are 18, according to Unicef. Around 30 per cent of girls are married before they turn 15.
This is despite a law that was passed in 2015 to criminalise child marriages. The ruling also contravenes the constitution which states that Chad is a secular country.
It adds to further fears by the substantial Christian minority that Chad’s legal framework is moving towards Sharia law. The most recent census found that 52.1 per cent of the population were Muslim and 43.9 per cent Christian.
But the giant country, which is one of the poorest nations in the world, has been ruled by a Muslim dynasty for more than three decades.
President Mahamat Déby took over last year from his father, Idriss Déby, who launched a successful coup in 1990.
Christian communities opposed constitutional reforms in 2018 that required politicians to swear a Muslim oath when entering office. They also object to “Diya”, a concept in Sharia law where the perpetrator of a crime pays “blood money” to victims’ families.