Articles have recently appeared in the Saudi press discussing the phenomenon of child marriage, which has been practiced in Muslim societies since the dawn of Islam. In Saudi Arabia, which implements the shari'a, child bride marriages are legal, since according to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad married his wife 'Aisha when she was only six years old.
In August 2009, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl had been hiding for 10 days in her aunt's house after her father married her off to a man of 80. In response to this report, a Saudi columnist contended that child bride marriages were incompatible with Islamic values and that they violated the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory.
Following are excerpts from the article:
Fifth-Grader Wedded to an Octogenarian
The Saudi daily 'Okaz reported on August 25, 2009 that the father of a 10-year-old girl had removed her from her aunt's home, where she had been hiding for 10 days, and brought her back to her husband, who, according to the girl's relatives, is 80 years old. In an 'Okaz interview, the husband stated that he was not yet 80, accused the girl's aunt of interfering in his private life, and claimed that according to the shari'a his marriage is legal as long as the girl's father consents to it. He explained that the girl's father had first offered him his older daughter, but when the latter refused, the father had suggested the younger one, and he had agreed, since when girl was shown to him, he couldn't see anything to prevent their getting married.
In response to the interview, Saudi Human Rights Commission member Ma'touq Al-'Abdallah stated that while the country had not explicitly outlawed child bride marriages, a report issued in February 2009 by the Saudi Health Ministry concluded that such marriages were detrimental to the minor's emotional and physical health, and harmful to society. Al-'Abdallah further stated that underage marriage violated the rights of the child as set out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory, and which defines anyone under 18 as a minor.(1)
Saudi Columnist: Child Bride Marriages Contravene Islamic Values
Saudi columnist and former editor of the Saudi daily Shams Khalaf Al-Harbi harshly criticized the practice of underage marriage. In an article titled "Save Elementary School Girls!" in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, he wrote: "How is it possible that an elementary school girl is married to an 80-year-old man and no one lifts a finger to prevent this disaster? [And] how is it possible that, [although] this sad episode is reported on the front page [of a newspaper], the public treats it as a 'private matter'?...
"In an interview with 'Okaz, the bridegroom denied that he was 80 years old
[He also said] that according to shari'a, [such] a marriage is permissible as long as the father of the bride consents to it
and that he was originally supposed to wed the older sister... What is the meaning of all this? The older sister refuses to marry an 80-year-old man, so the father offers him the next in line
"How can anyone accept such injustice? Where are all the heroic women [who led] the [My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me] campaign?(2) Let them explain the difference between fatherhood and selling vegetables [in the market].
"Before I read this report on the front page of 'Okaz, I tried to sympathize with the claim that we [in Saudi Arabia] are 'in the crosshairs' of various foreign human rights organizations. After reading this article, however, I thank the Lord that I am not a member of one of these organizations, since I would have attacked [Saudi Arabia] 60 times more intensely [than they do]. I would
tear my clothes and run around the streets like Tarzan, because the world has turned into a jungle where a father gives his daughter to an octogenarian and society sees this tragedy as a private family matter: 'I am happy as long as the father is happy.'
"This [kind of] marriage is a blatant violation of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Moreover, a committee formed by the Health Ministry to look into the phenomenon of child bride marriages has concluded that they result in grave problems - physical, emotional, and social.
"It is inconceivable that Islam, which is a humane and compassionate religion, should sanction this kind of injustice. How can we let that father and that [bridegroom] vitiate our religion and our society?..."(3)
(1) 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 25, 2009. See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 502, "Rising Criticism of Child Bride Marriages in Saudi Arabia," March 8, 2009, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA50209.
(2) See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 559, "In Response to Calls to Improve Status of Saudi Women, Saudi Princess Launches 'My Guardian Knows What's Best For Me' Campaign," October 27, 2009, http://www.memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA55909 .
(3) 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 27, 2009.