With skyrocketing divorce rates and a flurry of cases in which older men married young girls, Saudi Arabia is considering a new law to prohibit girls marrying before the age of 18, according to press reports Saturday.
Recognizing changes in contemporary society and the prevalence of divorce among girls married before they turn 18 years old, Justice Minister Mohamed al-Eissa declined to disregard fatwas that permit minor marriages but said that such religious rulings do not address its drawbacks.
“We cannot dispute the fatwas that permit the marriage of young girls, but these fatwas did not tackle the disadvantages,” Eissa said in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, adding that reaching puberty should not be the only prerequisite for marriage.
He acknowledged that the ministry has experienced several difficulties following an alarming increase in divorce rates, primarily due to significant age differences and minor marriages, an said the laws needed to adapt to contemporary realities.
"According to preliminary surveys, most divorces are due to age difference, especially when the girl is a minor and even if the age difference is not that big," he told the London-based newspaper.
A girl under the age of 18 is not ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage, especially if she has children immediately, he said, noting that traditional practices might need to be adapted to present-day concerns.
"In this age, many guardians act irresponsibly towards their daughters, which led to many failing marriages. That is why laws need to change in accordance with the current circumstances."
The recent controversy surrounding the marriage and subsequent divorce of an eight-year old girl and a 47-year-old man was the latest case to rivet public attention and spurred human rights organizations to label minor marriage an abuse of children's rights.
Many Saudi families marry their daughters to older men because of financial problems.