Saudi Arabia: Saudi girl, eight, married off to 58-year-old is denied divorce
In many child marriages, girls are given away to older men in return for dowries or following the custom by which a father promises his daughters and sons to marriage while still children. But the issue is complicated by different interpretations of sharia law and a lack of legal certainty.
"There is confusion in Saudi Arabia over the fundamental question of what constitutes adulthood," said Clarisa Bencomo of Human Rights Watch. "There is also vast judicial discretion." The case appears to fit a pattern of divorced fathers using their children to take revenge against their ex-wives. Mothers usually only have custody while the children are young.
Relatives said the marriage had not been consummated and that the girl was still living with her mother. They said that the father had set a verbal condition by which the marriage was not to be consummated until the girl turns 18 - although it was unclear how this could be enforced. The father agreed to marry off his daughter for a dowry of 30,000 riyals (£5,400) as he was facing financial problems.
Bencomo dismissed the idea that the girl would be able to file for divorce once she reached puberty since there was no standard definition of this. In addition, Saudi judges often insist that even adult women speak to them through a male guardian or lawyer.
No figures are available for the number of arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents in Saudi Arabia, where the strictly conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common. But human rights groups say they are aware of many such cases.
Senior clerics, including Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, have denounced child marriage. But it is still prevalent in conservative areas. The Shura council recently defined adulthood as starting at age 18 but objections prevented it from being ratified as required by the council of ministers.
By: Ian Black, Middle East editor
23 December 2008
Source: The Guardian
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