Saudi Arabia intends to set a minimum age for girls allowed to marry under a new law intended to curb child marriages following a surge in such a phenomenon in the conservative Gulf Kingdom.
The ministry of justice is working on a regulation banning the marriage of female minors, most of which are forced by their fathers to marry much older men for dowry or other personal purposes, newspapers said.
Ministry sources, quoted by Almadina and other local newspapers, said the law would be issued soon despite what they described as stiff opposition by some scholars who believe such a ruling violates Islamic law.
“The law to set a minimum age for marriage is being drafted and will be issued soon,” one source said, without elaborating on that age.
Officials in the world’s oil powerhouse said the law, the first in the region, would have to be endorsed by the country’s appointed parliament (Shura) and King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz before it is enforced.
Newspapers said early this year that Shura had already given the green light to the ministry of justice to draft legislation restricting child marriage.
Shura gave no details of the proposed curbs but the law follows growing international criticism and recurrent calls by the local media to enforce tough rules against child marriage in the Moslem country.
“These acts should be stopped,” the Arabic language daily Shams said last month in response to recent reports about the marriage of a 55-year-old man to a 12-year-old girl. “This marriage is a new tragedy.”
Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed Al Issa said early this year that the Kingdom, is planning to enact a law to regulate the marriage of teenage girls following a surge in such weddings and growing criticism by local human rights groups. He said the new regulations are needed to put an end to what he described as widespread controversy and confusion about such marriages.
“The Ministry is studying a draft law to regulate the marriage of teenage girls…the marriage of under-age girls in the country is not a phenomenon yet as some claim... those who say this are wrong. We are considering regulations in line with the Islamic Shariah to govern this kind of marriage.”
Okaz newspaper recently quoted a statement by the Saudi Human Rights Commission as saying this marriage violates the girl’s rights.
“We have set up a committee to study this case and the circumstances involved…the marriage constitutes a violation of the rights of this child, who at this age needs to be cared by her family, pursue her education and enjoy her childhood,” the statement said.
“We call upon all members of the community to rally against the marriage of children and teenagers. Media institutions should also play a bigger role in defending children and their rights.”
(Al Arabiya wishes to acknowledge the courtesy of Emirates 24/7