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Saudi to regulate underage marriages

Saudi to regulate underage marriages

Saudi plans to regulate underage marriages after a judge refused to annul a marriage between an eight-year old girl and a 47 year-old man, reports Arab News.

April 15, 2009 9:46 by

Justice Minister Mohamed Al Issa announced that Saudi Arabia will control the marriage of young girls following a judge’s decision earlier this week to refuse for a second time to annul a marriage between an eight-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man.

The Justice Ministry aims “to put an end to arbitrariness by parents and guardians in marrying off minor girls,” Al Issa was quoted as saying in the local media.

On Saturday, a judge in Onaizah, Sheikh Habib Al Habib, upheld his decision again after an appeals court in Riyadh sent the eight-year-old girl’s case back to him for review a second time.

The judge maintains that once the girl hits puberty (the age of adulthood in Islam), she can decide for herself whether she wants to be married to the man or begin divorce proceedings.

The judge also ordered the man not to engage in sexual relations with the girl until then.

A relative speaking anonymously said the girl’s mother is determined to pursue the case despite the verdict. An appeals court is reportedly scheduled to review the case again next month.

The story first received local and international media attention in December when Al Habib decided against annulling the marriage.

The mother’s lawyer, Abdullah Al Jutaili, said the judge ruled that the mother, who is divorced from her father who married off his girl to settle a debt, is not the legal guardian and therefore cannot petition for a separation.

Underage marriage has been a hot subject especially following remarks in January by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Asheikh who declared that it is not against Shariah to “marry off girls who are 15 and younger.”

“We hear a lot in the media about marriage of underage girls,” Al Sheikh said. “We should know that Shariah law has not brought about injustice to women.”

Shariah permits women to marry Muslim men of good standing, and the father plays an important role in determining this quality. However, fathers cannot force daughters to marry, and the marriage must be consensual.

Dowry is also the bride’s property, not her father’s.

Financial considerations could prompt some Saudi families to wed their underage daughters to much older men. “For them this is allowed by Islamic law,” lawyer Abdul Rahman Al Lahem said.

Many human rights groups, including the Kingdom’s governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC), have repeatedly voiced their opposition to child marriages and have vowed publicly that they are working to put an end to the practice.

The justice minister’s statement seems to back the HRC in this matter.

“The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia. Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed,” Zuhair Al Harithy, spokesman for the HRC, said when the case first broke six months ago.

International rights groups also voiced alarm at the decision. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday expressed deep concern over reports that the Saudi court has ruled the marriage as “legally binding.”

First seen in Arab News.

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