Saudi Child Marriages

From The Jordan Times, Thursday, August 7, 2008:

"Calls for end to Saudi child marriages" - by Donna Abu-Nasr, The Associated Press
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.
Mohammad Al Rashidi's marriage was eventually put on hold...after pressure from the governor 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...The Human Rights Commission, a Saudi government-run rights group recently suceeded in delaying the consummation of the marriage of a 10-year-old girl after getting reports from medical centres in Hail that she and a man in his 60s had showed up for the mandatory prenuptial medical tests...but there are other marriages involving children that have gone ahead.
One involved a 15-year-old girl whose father, a death-row inmate, married her off to a cellmate 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...appeared in several newspapers. Inmates recited poems and delivered speeches in the presence of prison officials. The teenage bride and other women...held a separate reception outside the jail.
The groom and his bride were allowed to spend two nights together in a special prison quarters after the wedding...
There are no laws in Saudi Arabia defining the minimum age for marriage. Though a women's consent is legally required, some marriage officials do not seek it. For example, a father can marry off a one-year-old girl as long as sex is delayed until she reaches puberty...There are no statistics to show how many marriages involving children are preformed every year...
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 thouands of underaged girls who have been forced into marriages in Yemen...
[Activists] say the girls are given away in return for hefty dowries or as a result of long-standing custom in which a father promises his infant daughters and sons to cousins out of a belief that marriage will protect them from illicit relationships...Al Muabi, a marriage official, said that because marriage in Islam takes places in two stages - a marriage contract can be signed months or even years before a woman moves in with her husband - that means a one-year-old girl can be married off.
A man "can enter a marriage contract with a one-year-old girl, not to mention nine years, seven years, or eight years," said Muabi. "This is just a contract indicating consent, and the guardian in this case must be the father." Muabi maintained such unions make sense in some cases, such as when a man is the sole guardian of many daughters.
"Isn't it better to marry his daughter to a man with whom she can stay and who can protect her and support her, and when she reaches the proper age, have sex with her? Who says all men are ferocious wolves?" said Muabi.
However, Sheikh Abdul-Mohsen Al Obeikan, a legal adviser at the justice ministry, said a girl's consent is crucial.
"A marriage official should not conclude a marriage contract without the woman's agreement and without her signature," Obeikan said...
"When girls are married off at a young age they will be deprived of education and of enjoying their childhood," said Suhaila Hammad of the National Society for Human Rights..."Their bodies won't be able to tolerate pregnancey and delivering children." But there's only so much the groups can do.

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