One can understand how ignorant clerics and tribal elders in places like Saudi Arabia and Yemen might continue to accept and promote the bestial practice of child marriage, however it’s not just those ignoramuses who do. Underage marriage is an issue that seems to have polarized the Saudi Kingdom, and it reared its ugly head again when it was discovered that a government official in the city of Najran had married a 12-year-old child. To add insult to injury he happened to be a marriage official or ‘mazoun’ (someone who officiates over signing of marriage contracts). You would think this idiot would have known better, but obviously not.
Human rights activists and a Muslim sheikh have been railing against the Saudi government about the common practice, to no avail. One of the major problems hindering any progress in creating child marriage laws and ending the practice is the fact that the conservative contingency of Saudi Arabia including prominent clerics and tribal elders think it’s perfectly okay for an older man to marry a pre-pubescent child. All this in spite of the fact that there has been a major campaign to demonstrate otherwise.
After more than two years of media coverage of the negative consequences of marriage and sex for minor girls, and despite calls by some Saudi officials and even some clerics to end the practice, the government has yet to set a minimum age for marriage.
The reasons these fundamentalists think it’s okay is absolutely distasteful. Of course there’s the financial advantage for the parents. Bluntly put, they sell their daughters for financial gain.
Some tribal elders also see nothing wrong in giving young girls in marriage. Many families marry their daughters to older men for financial benefits, getting payments from grooms in advance and if a marriage is broken.
An even more idiotic excuse to marry off young girls is the following:
… many traditionalists in this conservative country believe early marriage protects their daughters from premarital relationships, pointing to active support from senior clerics such as Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti.
“If a girl exceeds 10 or 12 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,’’ Sheikh Abdul Aziz told an audience in Riyadh University last year.
Then there are those who justify it in the name of Islam. They claim Islamic law states that it’s perfectly fine for men to marry young girls, after all Mohammed married Aisha when she was nine, so if it’s okay for Mohammed it should be okay for them.
As for this government official who married the 12-year-old, he claims his mama forced him to bed down the young girl. Apparently, the father of the girl had told him not to have sex with her until she was 13, like that would have made any difference at all, but his mother kept at him. So he did. It took him “several attempts over two weeks” but he eventually did it. All the while, the poor little girl couldn’t figure out “why her parents gave her away to me”.
There are people on both sides of the issue voicing their opinions in newspapers and websites, with those who oppose it:
“Any man who desires or performs sex with a little girl, and that is what a 12-year-old female child is sick in the head,” wrote one woman, who identified herself as Shana Badawi, in the English-language Arab News.
and those who condone it:
Another reader by the name of Mohammed Rehman countered: “Are you Muslim or what? What age did your mother Aisha, may Allah be please with her, marry? … next time think of the Islamic legislation before the western view!”
And it doesn’t look like those who oppose it are going to make any headway anytime soon. People are too afraid of the conservative and traditionalists in the country.
Saudi human-rights advocates have pleaded with members of the consultative Shura Council for a strong recommendation in favour of a minimum marriage age. But members of the council, whose members are appointed by King Abdullah, say the country’s conservative nature makes that very difficult.
“There are a lot of people who are very religious and they think you cannot say that 13 or 14 is not an eligible age for marriage,” Talal al Bakri, chairman of the family, youth and social affairs committee, said yesterday in an interview.
The activists say Saudi Arabia is required to legislate a minimum marriage age in keeping with its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the age of maturity at 18.
At least one senior cleric has also dismissed the argument that since marriage to minors was acceptable for Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, it also is acceptable for
Muslims in the 21st century. The Prophet’s marriage to Aysha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same”, Sheikh Abdullah al Manie said in a January interview with Okaz newspaper.
“It is a grave error to burden a child with responsibilities beyond her years,” added Sheikh Abdullah, who sits on the Council of Senior Ulema. “Marriage should be put off until the wife is of a mentally and physically mature age and can care for both herself and her family.”
The government-backed Human Rights Commission has come out against marrying of minors, but has not explicitly called for minimum-age legislation.
Instead, the commission president, Bandar Bin Mohammed al Aiban, said it is organising a workshop on the subject to give experts an opportunity to give their views on the matter. Physicians, psychologists, social workers and Sharia scholars will participate. No date has been set yet.
Mr al Aiban said he is aware that many Saudis are outraged that no concrete steps have been taken to stop such marriages. “We’re feeling that [impatience],” he said. “And that is something that will support the consensus that we are trying to build.”
“It’s a big social problem now,” said Mohammed al Zulfa, a former Shura Council member. “I’m glad people are still talking about it … I hope the minister of justice will look at it seriously and stop it.”
At least there are those who do condemn the practice, and will obviously continue to fight the good fight, but it’s going to take a lot to change the minds of conservative people who have been practicing this for centuries, and who see it as rooted in their religion. Hopefully, the psychologists and doctors can eventually persuade these people that it’s not healthy for a child. Perhaps they were better equipped in the days of Mohammed to marry young, but they’re not in this day and age.