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Saudi officials block child marriages: report

Tell parents of 13-year-old girls that they are too young

Marriage officials in Saudi Arabia have refused to marry three 13-year-old girls, amid an outcry by rights activists in the kingdom over child marriages, Al-Watan newspaper reported on Saturday.

Last week marriage officials told the parents of three girls that they were too young, citing a recent instruction by the head of the Dammam regional courts, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Raqib, Watan reported.

When the father of one then sought permission from Raqib, he was told to wait until she was 15.

Saudi Arabia has no law setting a minimum age for marriage for either gender, leading to occasional cases in which girls are married off by their parents before reaching their teens, some even younger than age 10.

Saudi human rights activists have sought to have a law banning the practice of child marriage and setting a minimum age of 18, but some powerful religious officials have resisted.

In January, the grand mufti, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, said girls as young as 10 may be married according to Islam and stressed that Islamic law is not by any means oppressive to women as he lashed out at critics.

"If a girl exceeds ten or twelve then she is eligible for marriage, and whoever thinks she is too young, then he or she is wrong and has done her an injustice," he said.

The Saudi National Human Rights Association (NHRA) has criticized the occurrence of marriage of minors in the kingdom and considered it a violation of childhood. The association has sought to work with authorities to curb the practice and protect children's rights.