Orfi (common law) marriage in Tunisia

Common law marriage (ôrfi) seems to be gaining followers in young Salafist milieus.

Common law marriage, or “Orfi” marriage, is a new phenomenon in Tunisian society. Although it is difficult to compile a register of such cases, the phenomenon can be perceived more and more in the areas surrounding the capital and in other large cities.

What is “Orfi” marriage?
It is a marriage contract that is formally signed by a man and a woman in the presence of two witnesses. According to the Personal Status Code, this marriage is illegal, for there is no commitment between the husband and the wife that binds the couple.
This type of marriage does not include a civil contract, it is not recognized by law, and it transforms the women into wives in abeyance, with children who are not recognized and have no identity.
The woman is deprived of her most fundamental rights, of which the most important is that of being recognized as a wife; for society considers her to be a celibate mother, as it is difficult to prove her rights before a court, and consequently, in the absence of juridical documents, she loses the right to receive an allowance for food.

The children’s situation
With the adults losing out in this situation, the children are considered to be illegitimate, since it is difficult to prove their filial relationship, as the father refuses responsibility in their regard. The mothers are not able to register their children or to acquire birth certificates without a formal marriage contract. The result is that the children cannot register at school, because their names do not exist in the civil registries.

The young people’s situation
According to a study carried out in five Tunisian universities, more than 80% of couples are choosing this union that has no juridical value and that is above all illegal and can be broken at any time. 800 orfi unions, concealed from all, are said to be registered in Tunisia; however, this number is difficult to prove because so much discretion surrounds the matter.
It seem that this “fashion” started because of the difficult and precarious situation of Tunisian youth… But what will become of the woman under these conditions?In Egypt “Orfi marriage has become a real phenomenon recently, with 4,100 marriages contracted in 2008, of which 17% are those of students.”
These numbers reveal the growing tension between a rigid society and a population that wants to live out its youth to the full.

Sr Agnès Perrin – NDS