Former member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars Sheikh Abdullah al-Rakban admitted that the “sale” of minor girls to wealthy husbands takes place in rural and Bedouin communities and stressed the necessity of raising awareness about marriage age.
“If a girl is over 25 years old, she is considered mature and has the right to marry whoever she chooses,” Rakban said in a seminar held at the Iman Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University under the title Marriage Age: A Religious and Social Perspective.
“But if she is under 20, this most probably means that her parents forced her to get married especially if the husband is a wealthy older man.”
It is also important, Rakban noted, to make sure that the age difference between husband and wife is reasonable so that they can develop a healthy relationship.
Rakban said he differed with religious scholars who argue that it is not religiously permissible to set a minimum age for marriage.
“Marriage age is one of the matters a ruler can determine and people under the specified age should not be allowed to marry unless under exceptional circumstances.”
Professor of sociology at the School of Social Sciences at the Imam Mohamed bin Saudi University Dr. Ali bin Abdul Rahman al-Rumi revealed that 5,622 Saudi girls got married under the age of 14, that is not more than 1% of the population.
Rumi explained that Saudi Arabia is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provided that none of the terms that violate Islamic laws is applied.
“Islam does not prohibit the marriage of minor girls, but international organizations keep putting pressure on countries that signed with reservations and raise hell if one minor girl gets married in any of them,” he said.
Rumi, however, admitted to the drawbacks of early marriages.
“Girls at this young age are more fertile and this leads to a remarkable rise in the population.”
According to Dr. Abdullah bin Saleh al-Hudaithi, member of the Saudi Consultative Council, the Ministry of Justice is currently studying the possibility of setting a minimum marriage age, but the issue was not discussed at the council.
“There was a recommendation to determine the minimum age for a girl to have a marriage contract, but it was withdrawn later,” he said.
Hudaithi pointed out the difference between the marriage contract and the consummation of the marriage.
“I believe the minimum age should apply to consummation, but a marriage contract can be signed before that age is reached.”
According to this regulation, he explained, the girl can ask for divorce if after reaching the legal she does not want to consummate the marriage.
Dr. Kais bin Mohamed Al al-Sheikh argued that marrying girls at a young age is sometimes better for them.
“Parents may see that it is in the girl’s best interest to marry at this age and sometimes a girl would keep postponing marriage until she becomes a spinster or make the wrong choice.”
Member of the Saudi Human Rights Association Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Faleh stressed the necessity of referring the matter to the Council of Senior Scholars.
“International organizations are putting a lot of pressure on Saudi Arabia to regulate marriage age,” he said.