Calls for end to Saudi child marriages

by Kal El on August 6, 2008 · 1 comment

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Disgusting, pure and evil, in the birthplace of islam. But finally, authorities are waking up and attempting to put a stop to it.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – An 11-year-old boy gave out invitations to his classmates for a big event his family was planning this summer — and it wasn’t his birthday party.

It was his wedding to a 10-year-old cousin.

Muhammad al-Rashidi’s marriage was eventually put on hold, his father said, after pressure from the governor of the northern province of Hail, who considered the elementary school student too young to marry.

The case is among a recent spate of marriages involving the very young reported in the media and by Saudi human rights groups. They have been widely denounced by activists, clerics and others who say such unions are harmful to the children and trivialize the institution of marriage.

Saudi Arabia is already rocked by a high divorce rate that has jumped from 25 percent to 60 percent over the past 20 years, according to Noura al-Shamlan, head of the research department at the Center of University Studies for Girls.

“We are studying this issue so we can put an end to this phenomenon,” said Zuhair al-Harithi, board member of the Human Rights Commission, a Saudi government-run rights group. “These marriages violate international agreements the kingdom has signed.”

Al-Harithi’s group recently succeeded in delaying the consummation of the marriage of a 10-year-old girl after getting reports from medical centers in Hail that she and a man in his 60s had showed up for the mandatory prenuptial medical tests.

He said the commission wrote to the province’s governor and head of Islamic courts urging them to stop the marriage.

But there are other marriages involving children that have gone ahead.

One involved a 15-year-old girl whose father, Muhammad Ali al-Zahrani, a death-row inmate, married her off to a cell mate who also was sentenced to death. The father’s sentence was carried out July 21, when he was beheaded for killing another man.

Pictures of the wedding, held in the prison in Taif for the men, appeared in several newspapers. Media reports said inmates recited poems and delivered speeches in the presence of prison officials. The teenage bride and other women, as is the custom here, held a separate reception outside the jail.

The groom, Awad al-Harbi, and his bride were allowed to spend two nights together in a special prison quarters after the wedding, according to Al-Watan. Al-Harbi told another newspaper, Al-Madina, recently that his wife was pregnant.

There are no laws in Saudi Arabia defining the minimum age for marriage. Though a woman’s consent is legally required, some marriage officials do not seek it. For example, a father can marry off a 1-year-old girl as long as sex is delayed until she reaches puberty, said one marriage official, Ahmad al-Muabi.

Known as “ma’thoons,” these officials have legal authority to preside over marriage contract ceremonies. They ask the groom and the woman’s guardian if they approve of the marriage and then give them the marriage papers to sign.

There are no statistics to show how many marriages involving children are performed every year. And it’s also not clear whether these unions are on the rise or whether people are hearing about them more now because of the prevalence of media outlets and easy access to the Internet.

But the phenomenon is not new, said Sheik Muhammad al-Nujaimi, a strong opponent of the marriages. He and other clerics, activists and writers have urged the government to pass legislation setting the minimum age for marriage and to resolve differences among the kingdom’s religious authorities over the issue.

“There are different (religious) opinions regarding the marriages which is why we need the government to settle the issue through legislation,” said al-Nujaimi.

Such marriages occur not only in Saudi Arabia. In April, an 8-year-old Yemeni girl sought out a judge to file for divorce from a man nearly four times her age. Her lawyer said she was one of thousands of underaged girls who have been forced into marriages in Yemen, an impoverished tribal country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

This sickens and saddens me, that this has been allowed to continue as it has in the modern era, in ANY country or culture. But it is encouraging that efforts are being made to stop it. Let us just hope, for the sake of the children, as well as the possible risks from inbreeding, that the efforts are sincere.

Read the rest in Yahoo! News.

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  • Libertyship46

    And these people are our friends? One of the major reasons I’m for becoming energy independent (either by drilling here at home or using nuclear power) is just so that we can tell the Saudis, and every other oil-producing country in the middle east, to go take a hike. Then they can go back to doing what they do best, which is cutting off each other’s heads and fighting their endless religious wars between Shias and Sunnis. It’s what they deserve.