Saudi Arabia Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh announced there is “nothing wrong” with girls under the age of 15 getting married. This is a blow to human rights activists who hoped the strict Islamic country would at least set the minimum marriage age at 15.
“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” he said.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry wanted to pass a law that set a minimum age to marry since many young girls are forced to marry much older men. Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed Al Issa said the issue came to light after “a surge in such weddings and growing criticism by local human rights groups.”
“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.” he said. “We are considering regulations in line with the Islamic Shariah to govern this kind of marriage.”
The ministry submitted a study about the “negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages” to scholars and “requested a fatwa.” However, the scholars never responded.
The Justice Ministry first said they would attempt to stop underage marriages when a court told an eight-year-old girl she must stay married to a man 50 years older than her. But underage marriage grabbed international attention when 12-year-old Fatima escaped from her marriage home and demanded a divorce. Her father sold her to 50-year-old man “who already had a wife and ten children.” Under the law, a father is allowed to choose a spouse for his daughter. In 2013, a court granted her a divorce, but Equality Now said that Fatima “is now suffering from psychological and emotional distress as she feels ashamed of her situation; she no longer wants to pursue her education, believing that she no longer has options in society as a child ‘divorcee.’” From Equality Now:
Fatima’s experience highlights the plight and repercussions of millions of girls around the world who are married as children. Early/forced marriages continue to be prevalent despite clear evidence that such marriages have severe negative physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications on children. Child marriage violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse. It may mark an abrupt initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is considerably older and a relative stranger. Premature pregnancy carries significant health risks and pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years worldwide. Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to education. In addition, married girls have few social connections, restricted mobility, limited control over resources, and little power in their new households, and studies by UNICEF have found domestic violence to be common in child marriages.
Then again, Saudi Arabia is one of the leaders in the world on women oppression. Courts outlawed “tempting eyes” and sentenced a woman to 50 lashes when she cursed at the religious police. Women are not allowed to attend a doctor appointment without a male guardian. Saudi women protested against the law that forbids them from driving, but Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan added more international outrage when he said driving harms a woman’s ovaries.