News of a Saudi octogenarian marrying an eleven-year-old girl has outraged human rights activists amid calls on the government to regulate the marriage of underage girls, local media reported Saturday.
The Saudi National Human Rights Commission formed a committee to investigate the marriage, which activists consider a flagrant violation of human and children rights, the Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh said.
The marriage registrar, who was widely criticized since he agreed to seal the marriage contract knowing the girl's age, absolved himself of any blame.
"There is no law that prohibits the marriage of a girl under 18," he told the paper. "Plus, I summoned the girl and she declared her consent and signed the contract."
Regarding the consummation of the marriage, the registrar said he does not have the authority to dictate when it should take place, especially that the bride's father did not mention it in the contract.
When asked if he felt the marriage was wrong due to the age gap, the registrar said: "I do not look at age differences and things of that sort as long as the bride approves. Also, the contract is legal and it was registered in court."
He added he did not receive any money in return for overlooking the age difference.
"I did not take one single riyal for this contract. My reward will be given to me by God."
"Fit for marriage"
The father, who took 85,000 riyals (more than $22,000) in dowry, defended his decision to marry off his 11-year-old daughter even though his wife vehemently objected.
"I don't care about her age," he told the paper. "Her health and her body build make her fit for marriage. I also don't care what her mother thinks."
The father added that marriage at such an early age has been a custom in the Saudi society for a very long time and that he saw no reason why it should be a problem now.
"This is a very old custom and there is nothing wrong with it whether religiously or socially."
On the other hand, the groom said that the father, who is also his cousin, was the one who offered him his daughter and that the mother was totally against the marriage.
"He told me 'I have a girl and she will marry no one but you,'" the groom told the paper. "So, we got the witnesses and summoned the registrar. I paid the dowry and we held the ceremony and that was it. "
The groom expressed his surprise at how the media leveled harsh criticism against him and his family for marrying the girl.
"It is very simple. We didn’t do anything wrong. It is a valid contract that meets all the conditions for marriage? What's the point of all this fuss?"
The groom has three other wives, all much younger, and they all have kids.
The mother, who vehemently objected to the marriage, was the reason behind the attention given to the girl's case.
After reporting the marriage to the media, the National Human Rights Commission decided to form a committee to look into the circumstances under which the marriage took place.
Commission director, Dr. Bandar al-Aiban, gave instructions that the committee be made up of members who are specialized in Islamic law and who are going to meet with all the parties involved in the marriage.
As for the bride, she just called for help as she burst into tears.
"Save me. I don't want him," she cried.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)