Egypt's Minister of Health and Population Ahmed Emad Al Deen announced on Wednesday that the country's National Population Council is now finalizing legislation to criminalize child marriage.
According to Egyptian Independent, the latest move comes in coordination "with the Ministry of Justice, the Public Prosecution and the National Council for Women (NCW)."
The ministry's official spokesman Khaled Megahed, said the ministry is now finalizing the bill, which will soon be adopted by the government.
In his statement on the matter, Emad Al Deen said the move comes after a recent population health survey revealed that "14.6% of married girls in Egypt marry between the ages of 15 and 19."
Still a major issue in Egypt
Child marriage cases are widespread in Egypt and continue to be a major problem, especially in rural areas.
In recent weeks, the issue sparked controversy in the country after several preachers, and even an Egyptian MP called on authorities to lower the marital age for girls.
In a statement he made on live television a few weeks back, Egyptian preacher Muftah Mohammad Maarouf, also known as "Abu Yahya," stated that it's absolutely okay for a newborn girl to be married off by her father - even at such a young age.
Weeks before that, Egyptian MP Ahmen Samih, an independent MP representing the Giza district of Al-Talbiya, proposed a draft law aimed at lowering the marital age for females in Egypt from the current 18 to 16.
The controversial draft law sparked controversy and debate across the country. It faced intense backlash from fellow MPs and women's rights activists who specified it as "regressive."
Egypt's government has yet to vote on the draft law, but several MPs have already taken a strong stand against it.
In her response on the matter, head of Egypt’s National Women’s Council, Maya Morsi, even called upon parliament to raise the legal age to 21.
Child marriage is also a major global problem
According to the World Economic Forum, 117 countries around the world allow child marriages, either because there is no age specification or it is allowed under certain circumstances.
Globally, UNICEF says 39,000 child marriages occur daily.
While one in three girls in the developing world are forced into marriage before the age of 18.
In recently released global slavery statistics, forced marriage was included for the first time showing ‘money and debt’ to be at the heart of the exploitation.
Children account for 10 million of the overall 40.3 million total, while women and girls accounted for 71% or 29 million of all modern slavery victims in 2016.
As the problem persists globally, individuals and organizations have been fighting against the practice in the Arab world.
In July, members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council sent a letter to the Justice Ministry demanding that marriage for girls under 15 years of age be banned.
Lebanese NGO KAFA has long been fighting for change, launching numerous campaigns in an effort to amend Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution, which gives religious authorities the freedom to impose their own laws on various issues including marriage, divorce, and child custody.