Imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, meet Egypt’s indebted women
Indebted woman baking at Tora Prison bakery.

CAIRO: “I will tell you all the information you want but please do not mention my name in your story as I do not want to scandalize my daughter,” said M. Zachary who was sentenced to tow years in jail for a crime she did not commit.

After taking out a loan to fund her daughter’s marriage requirements, her husband convinced her to sign as a guarantor saying it was “just a bank formality.” Unfortunately the husband died a few months after the daughter was married and Zachry, who failed to pay the monthly installments of the 4,500 EGP (around $500) loan, has ended up in jail.

“13 months have passed now and I am going to recapture my freedom and see my children after five more months. I see my children every night in my dreams and imagine talking with them.” Zachary said in an interview with The Cairo Post at one of Cairo’s most notorious female prisons.

“Almost 30 percent of colleague prisoners here are jailed for debts totaling not more than 5,000 EGP each and over half of them are imprisoned after failing to pay loans they borrowed to get their daughters married,” she recounted.

There are no clear statistics detailing the number of indebted women in Egypt, but figures indicate that tens of thousands of women fail to repay their loans, ending up in prison.

After signing checks for 20,000 EGP she borrowed to spend on her husband’s hospital treatment, Fatima Aly from Egypt’s Delta governorate of Kafr al Sheikh was sentenced to 7 years in jail after failing to pay back the debt.

“I could have taken him to be treated in a public hospital but doctors advised me to take him to a private hospital that we could not afford.” said Aly.

“A few months after he recovered, he declined to help me pay the debt, stopped visiting me at prison, divorced me and was married to another woman,” she said, laughing sarcastically.

According to the Egyptian penal code, debtors may face up to seven years in prison. The law states that debtors may be released from prison only if their debts are paid for them, or the person they owe pardons them.

Several charitable organizations in Egypt have been calling on Egyptians to donate to indebted women, better known as “gharemat” who face the risk of jail because they cannot afford to pay their debts. In 2014, Egyptian NGOs brokered several deals with banks and have paid about 100,000 EGP to help women out of debt.

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