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Vol. 10, No. 3, 2011
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it's still legal in Saudi Arabia



Based in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Eman Al Nafjan is the author of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, a blog on Saudi society, culture, women and human rights issues.

If you were to ask me as a Saudi woman from one of the most conservative regions of Saudi Arabia, 'What is the one change that you would like to see?' there are many that come to mind: allowing women to drive cars, allowing women to enter government buildings, opening up more employment options to women and lifting the guardianship system under which every woman (no matter how old she is) has to have a male guardian everywhere she goes.

But there is one change that I would like to see happen yesterday: the criminalization of child marriages.

Hospital staff in a Saudi town were shocked when a 65-year-old Hepatitis B for a license to marry a healthy 11-year-old girl. In the absence of laws and regulations to prevent child marriages and prosecute those who take part, the staff had to rely on persuading the girl's parents to not go through with the marriage. Sadly, according to a report published in Al Riyadh (a local newspaper) they were unsuccessful.

Saudi activists have been pressuring the Ministry of Justice to issue a law against child marriages and prosecute those who allow their children to be raped under the pretension of marriage.

On April 14, 2009, the Minister of Justice issued a statement to the press that a new system of bylaws would be implemented such that children would no longer be subjected to this abuse. It has been over a year, we are still waiting, and several child marriages have occurred during our wait.

Last month alone, three different cases of child marriage cropped up in the media. In the southern Saudi city of Najran, a 13-year-old girl was married off to a man in his 50s. Everyone in the family opposed the marriage, including the girl’s grandfather and uncle, but nothing could be done to stop it. According to a family member, the father allowed the marriage because he wanted to use his daughter's dowry money to buy himself a new car.

In another case, a sheikh, Saeed Al Jaleel, came out saying that a couple of years back he was asked to marry a 10-year-old girl to a 34-year-old man. He tried to stop the marriage, speaking to the girl’s mother to try to get her to object, and trying to convince the father not to go through with it. But both parents insisted and the sheikh's hands, he said, were tied. Without any regulations against it, he married them.

The third and final case in the media involves the story of a marriage official himself marrying a 12-year-old, then consummating their marriage two and a half months later. According to Arab News, this is what the newlywed had to say about his marriage: "I had to summon up the courage for two weeks before I was able to have sex with her,” he said. When he first saw the girl, the official said, he was shocked by her fragility and spent quite some time figuring out how to have sex with her.

According to a Saudi social worker interviewed by Al Riyadh, she knows of three thousand cases in which the brides were 13-years-old and younger, while the husbands were at the age of his bride's father or grandfather.

The recent media silence might be explained by reports from sources within the Ministry of Justice quoted in Al Watan, another local paper, that 40 cases of child marriage were prevented in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia by verbal instruction alone. Since the ministry finds child marriage embarrassing and saw fit to prevent these cases of wedlock pedophilia, why won't it just set a legal age for marriage?

The majority of Saudi citizens themselves support the criminalization of child marriage. A recent campaign by Sayidaty Magazine explicitly condemned child marriages and was supported by members of the Saudi royal family, ministers, writers, artists, actors and even entire hospital administrations. But that outcry and a lot of international media attention on the issue only led to a space being put onto marriage certificates in which the age of the bride must be stated.

Stating the age of a bride is not the same as an outright and clear law completely banning child marriage, and each and every little girl subjected to this sanctioned form of pedophilia is a crime against humanity.


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 pedophiles.”

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 of it.”

“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.”

“It’s particularly 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 Convention.”

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.”

Saudi Arabia’s 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.”



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This another in a long line of invented religious rules: Islam, Mormonism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, need I go on? Like slavery, it's justified by a boys club mentality. This will never end; we can only hope we can save the few girls we hear about. Thank you for your work.


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