Court annuls marriage of 8 year old girl with 58-year man

Medeshi May 1, 2009
Court annuls marriage of 8 year old girl with 58-year-old man
Laura Bashraheel Arab News
JEDDAH: Saudi human rights advocates lauded yesterday a court decision this week annulling the marriage between an eight-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man who paid SR30,000 to the girl’s father in exchange for the nuptials.
“The marriage contract was illegal because she is a minor and her father gave his agreement without her knowledge,” said Suhaila Zain Al-Abidin, a human rights activist.
On Wednesday a court issued the divorce document to end the marriage that raised the ire of many members of Saudi society and was condemned by international child rights advocates, including UNICEF. The marriage took place in Onaizah, a town in the northcentral Qassim province.
The divorce came after many attempts from the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) and several officials in the area trying to convince the man to divorce the child.
After an appeal by the girl’s mother, the Court of Cassation was asked to review a ruling by the local judge, Sheikh Habib Al-Habib, who upheld the marriage in exchange for a pledge by the man not to have sex with the girl until she was 18. The judge maintained that only the girl, upon reaching adulthood, could choose to divorce the man.
The decision outraged child rights advocates who argued that the girl’s father did not have his daughter’s best interests in mind. “The father, who is her guardian, gave his agreement to the old man without her knowing anything about it,” said Al-Abidin.
Following the high-profile coverage of such marriages in the media, the HRC has taken steps to end matrimony involving minors. According to the HRC, the Ministry of Justice has begun studying ways to set a minimum age for marriage, which may end up being 16. Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, a consultant at the Ministry of Justice, has suggested 18 as the legal minimum age of marriage.
“We heard that the Ministry of Justice is conducting a study,” said Al-Abidin. “We are keeping our hopes up to set an age for women to get married.”
Jeddah-based lawyer Adnan Al-Zahrani says he personally is opposed to the marriage of minors, boys or girls.
However, he also believes that religiously it is allowed since the father is the guardian. “It is completely legal in Shariah but it is also allowed to make adjustments when needed,” he said. “It’s a controversial issue and it won’t end unless a law is set and implemented.”
When asked about governmental interventions in such cases, Al-Zahrani said it should not happen unless there is a law.
“The Shoura Council should carry out an in-depth study on the issue and pass legislation,” he added. “The circumstances have changed and each situation has its time and place.”
He also pointed out that the Ministry of Justice is an executive institution and not a legislative body. “Legislations should come from the Shoura Council,” he said.
The mother of the girl, who divorced the father years ago, had complained about her ex-husband as far back as August, but the courts sided with the father.
The father agreed to marry his daughter to the 58-year-old man for a dowry of SR30,000.
Islam defines dowry as the property of the bride rather than the father.
The girl’s father took control of the funds, which he used to settle some financial problems. Had the girl later decided not to continue the marriage at adulthood, her father would have been expected to return the dowry.