04/16/2009, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi court confirms validity of marriage for eight-year-old girl

Criticisms from UNICEF and the U.S. State Department. The Riyadh justice minister himself says that he wants to put an end to the arbitrary power of parents who arrange marriages for minor children, but does not mention any ban.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - UNICEF, the U.S. State Department, and human rights groups are protesting over the sentence from the Saudi court of Unaiza, which has confirmed the validity of the marriage between an eight-year-old girl and a fifty-year-old man.

The court confirmed that Islamic tradition allows girls to marry, on the condition that they not have sexual relations before puberty.

In theory, the woman's consent is required for a marriage to be valid, but many officials who perform weddings do not feel it is necessary to ask for this.

The question of the minimum age for marriage is extremely controversial in Islamic countries. Those who oppose setting one point out the fact that Mohammed himself took a nine-year-old girl as a wife. But women's movements and women in general see it as indirect human trafficking, in addition to its being the violation of a fundamental human right. This can even lead to the abandonment of the Islamic religion.

This case, however, seems capable of providing a jolt to the system, partly because of the desire for the modernization of his country expressed by King Abdullah. If UNICEF has said that it is "deeply concerned" by the sentence of the Saudi court, asserting that child marriage is "a violation of that child's rights," and a spokesman for the State Department, Robert Wood, has called it "a clear and unacceptable violation of human rights," the Saudi justice minister himself, Mohamed al-Issa, has announced that he wants to "put an end to arbitrariness by parents and guardians in marrying off minor girls." The minister, however, did not mention a ban, but only the desire to "preserve the rights" of girls, and "end the negative aspects of underage girls' marriage."

Behind marriages like these, in fact, in addition to tribal traditions, there is often economic trafficking, with actual "purchase" of child brides on the part of adult men. The practice, in fact, is present above all in the poorest areas of countries in the Arabian Peninsula, like Yemen.

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