Moroccan rights activists lashed out at forced marriage campaigns organized by Western Sahara’s Polisario Front in the Tindouf camps on the borders with Algeria.
More than 1200 underage males and females were married against their will by leaders of the Algeria-backed Polisario front for the liberation of Western Sahara from Morocco. The marriages took place in Tindouf, the movement’s headquarters in western Algeria.
Polisario authorities set up fully furnished tents for the newly-weds and promised a regular provision of foodstuffs for each couple every two weeks in addition to financial support.
According to Moroccan analysts, leaders of the rebel group are trying to make up for the loss of its members after hundreds decided to leave the camps and return to Morocco and to guarantee that younger generations will continue with the struggle for independence.
They are also trying to discourage the ones who stayed from following the returnees’ example, especially that life in Morocco is more comfortable and more economically prosperous than the relatively harsh conditions in the camps.
Activist Naba al-Moussawi, who recently returned from the Tindouf camps, said the rights of Sahrawi girls are systematically violated by the Polisario leadership under the guise of marriage.
“They strip the girl of her innocence and say they are marrying her to preserve her chastity,” she told Al Arabiya. “This is against women’s rights and all international laws and agreements.”
Another returnee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she managed to avoid forced marriage by running away from the camp.
“They force girls as young as 13 years old to marry in order for the movement to guarantee enough offspring for its cause,” she told Al Arabiya.
Dr. Khaled al-Samouni, head of the Moroccan Human Rights Center, said that policy of forced marriages practiced by the Polisario is a grave mistake.
“This is political and social foolishness,” he told Al Arabiya. “They are making the living conditions of Sahrawis in the camps even harder and are creating more tension.”
Samouni argued that this kind of marriage is most likely not legitimate since it usually doesn’t meet the legal and religious requirements that validate a marriage.
“The marriage is not based on consent and the couples are not at an age where they are fit for marriage.”
The marriage is also not valid, Samouni added, because it serves a political end and therefore violates the main purpose of marriage which family unity and social stability.
“I find it very likely that they might ban divorce in order to make sure that their aim of having as much offspring as possible is achieved.”
Mohamed al-Taleb, secretary general of the Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders Union, said that the Polisario authorities do not only target young unmarried girls, but divorced women are also forced to remarry.
“They even ban the use of any birth control devices for all couples,” he told Al Arabiya.
Several Moroccan websites supported the government’s argument that the Algerian military intelligence is involved in an organized plan that aims at forcing all youths in Tindouf camps to get married by the year 2011 in order to eliminate the possibility of their return to Morocco.
Moroccan rights activists called upon human rights organizations and the international community to interfere and exercise pressure on both Algeria and the Polisario to stop the forced marriage campaigns in order to avoid further escalation in the already precarious issue of Western Sahara.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).