Tunisian social media has been abuzz with pictures of a 15-year-old groom and his 12-year-old bride from a remote region in the country.
The pictures, taken from Hani and Amneh’s engagement party, were first uploaded to Facebook by the bride’s hairstylist, who said she was happy to prepare Amneh for her big day free of charge.
Following the media storm, the Ministry of Women, Family and Children ordered the Child Welfare Commissioner to launch an investigation and said that after checking with the couples’ respective families all necessary steps to ensure their welfare will be taken.
Yussef Alessawi, a spokesperson for the ministry, told a local radio station that he had contacted the bride who told him she was happy with the marriage, and so was her family.
“She is 12 years and nine months old and physically healthy,” he said. “There is no legal provision against her engagement, because the wedding is planned to take place when she turns 18.”
His remarks only made things worse, and the even greater controversy that ensued coerced the ministry into issuing an apology and firing Alessawi, saying he turned a blind eye to child abuse, which is what it amounted to.
The bride’s family was surprised by the outcry. Her mother said that they only got engaged, and would get married only after Amneh graduate from school, and that they didn’t break any laws. Amneh told the media that she is “small but has a big brain,” adding that the publicity led to bullying at school. “Some told me that I and my family need psychological treatment.”