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Saudi’s wedding woes
Marriage officials in the kingdom are under fire from rights groups for certifying underage weddings. But they say they are not to blame, reports Arab News.
February 22, 2009 3:30 by Laura Bashraheel
Underage marriages in Saudi Arabia have suddenly come into focus with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and some religious scholars are openly denouncing the practice. In a recent interview, HRC spokesman Zuhair Al-Harithy highlighted his organization’s efforts to engage all relevant government bodies in the campaign against underage marriage. He said the commission was lobbying to establish a marriage age limit.
Many are also of the view that marriage officials who certify such marriages should be brought to justice, reports Arab News.
But the officials say that they are just middlemen, and that it is not their job to ascertain the ages of people getting married as long as there is mutual consent.
“Yes, it is a dilemma,” said Ahmed Al-Mobi, a marriage official in Jeddah. But some of these marriages take place at the insistence of the male guardian, mainly the father. “The father is hell bent to marry off his daughter to an elderly man, and in this situation, there’s nothing we can do but just certify the union. Because it is legal,” Al-Mobi said.
“My job as a marriage official is limited to the certification of the marriage, nothing more. People say that it’s the marriage official who agreed to the union and his signature in the marriage contract proves it. But in fact it is the guardian’s approval that matters,” he added.
Al-Mobi told Arab News that marriage officials do not pursue marriage contracts unless they have made sure that the girls are adults (not by age but by her menstrual cycle) according to Justice Ministry regulations.
“In order for us to help in inhibiting this practice, regulations have to change,” he said.
“If a girl’s father (or guardian) tells a man that ‘I am marrying my daughter to you’ and the man verbally accepts the offer, the marriage is allowed and legal even before a marriage official certifies the contract,” he said.
“However, I believe it is an injustice when a nine- or a 10-year-old girl is married to a 50-year-old man. Fathers should be merciful to their daughters. They should also treat their daughters with compassion and not sell them as commodities,” Al-Mobi added.
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