12-YEAR-OLD MARRIED OFF TO 80-YEAR-OLD.
Buraidah, Saudi Arabia
(TML) – Saudi women’s rights advocates are outraged
after a 12-year-old girl was sold by her father into marriage
with an 80-year-old man.
A Saudi father, whose
name has not been released, sold his 12-year-old daughter
to his 80-year old cousin for the equivalent of $22,600. The
elderly man, who lives in the city of Buraidah, stands accused
of raping the girl after the wedding. He has previously married
three other young girls.
“She was raped
and they took her to the hospital after the wedding night,”
Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi journalist who has been banned
from reporting by the government told The Media Line. “Usually
when the girl is very young, the authorities tell the husband
not to touch her until after puberty. When he was interviewed,
the guy just said she was old enough and he didn’t know
she would get hurt.”
The girl, already in
the custody of the elderly man, was reported to have shouted
“I don’t want him, save me!” when contacted
by phone by a journalist from the Al Riyadh, a local newspaper
in the Saudi capital.
The girl’s mother, who had objected strongly to the
marriage, took the case to local media after her lawyer’s
efforts to get it legally annulled failed.
After the case was publicized,
the public prosecutor of Al-Qassim Province is said to have
set up a special committee to look into the case.
“They say they’re
going to look into it but nothing will really happen,”
Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi blogger and women’s rights advocate
told The Media Line. “Even if they solve this case,
they are not going to recommend a new law to the king. We
should set a legal minimum age at which girls can be married.”
“Without a law
we get people like this 80 year old guy who takes advantage
of the system to fulfill his sick obsession with little girls,”
she wrote on her blog. “Where else in the world can
a man openly say that he is in a polygamous marriage with
four underage girls and not get arrested? At this rate we
might as well start a tourism industry to attract rich Muslim
The girl’s parents
are divorced and the marriage is understood to have been arranged
on the initiative of the father, who told the local newspaper
that he did so on the basis of the girl’s physical development,
not her age.
“This is not at all unique,” said Al Nafjan, who
has written extensively about similar cases. “In all
the cases that have gotten the attention of local newspapers
it was because either the mother or an aunt made an issue
“Girls are seen
as very risky in Saudi Arabia because they can later shame
the family name by sleeping with someone,” she explained.
“So families often marry off their girls at a young
age so they can’t shame the family.”
common in cases when you have people from the lower economic
status who get divorced,” Al Nafjan said. “The
father usually wants to keep the boys, because culturally
they are not seen as risky, and doesn’t want to give
the daughters to the mother out of spite, so he just marries
them off to the first person who’ll pay.”
The girl currently attends school during the week, when she
lives with her father, and spends weekends with her elderly
husband at his home out in the desert outside the city.
The 80-year-old husband
told local journalists that he had tried to do the right thing
by inviting his new mother-in-law (the girl’s mother)
to the wedding but she cursed at him in response.
When asked by the mother’s
lawyer and the Al Riyadh newspaper why he had agreed to the
marriage, the officiator stated that he was under the impression
that the bride was 13 and a half years old.
Child marriages in Saudi Arabia have made international news
a number of times over t
he past year. In April
there was international outcry when a Saudi judge refused
to grant a divorce to an eight-year-old girl who had been
married off by her father to a 47-year-old man as part of
a loan repayment agreement, and in August a 10-year-old bride
ran away from her 80-year-old husband and sought refuge at
her aunt’s house. After ten days in hiding, the girl
was returned to her husband by her father.
The Convention on the
Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia has signed and ratified,
defines a child as any person under the age of 18 and Article
16.2 of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women, states that “The marriage
of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action,
including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum
age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages
in an official registry compulsory.”
Saudi Arabia, which ratified
the convention in September 2000, did so with the stated reservation
that “In case of contradiction between any term of the
Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not
under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the
Nadya Khalife, Women’s
Rights researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East
and North Africa Division, said Saudi Arabia should set a
legal age for marriage.
“We call on all governments to ensure that they have
a legal age of marriage,” she told The Media Line. “Working
from a human rights framework, we believe that early marriage
has negative consequences on children, especially girls because
it effects their health, education, literacy and economic
empowerment skills. The reason we focus on girls is because
it is principally girls who are married off at a young age.”
religious leadership defends child marriages, often citing
the marriage by Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah, the founder
of Islam, to Aisha bint Abu Bakr (612 - 678) , when according
to traditional Islamic texts she was six or seven years old.
Aisha stayed with her parents for a few years after the marriage,
according to most sources, moving in with Muhammad and consummating
the marriage when she was nine. Aisha was Muhammad’s
third of 13 wives or concubines.
Al Nafjan rejects using
Aisha as a basis for justifying child marriages.
“It’s not allowed in Islam to marry off children,”
she said. “There is nothing in the Koran that states
that children should be married off. It’s just a way
of legally justifying the rape of little girls.”