08/26/2008, 00.00
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Riyadh, marriage of young girls condemned

The Saudi Human Rights Commission is calling for a "clear and unambiguous position" from the government on these marriages, which "violate human rights by depriving a girl of her childhood". The Grand Mufti has also spoken out against those who force their daughters to marry against their will, or give them to elderly men.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Put an end to the practice of marrying young girls. This is the firm request from  the Saudi Human Rights Commission to the government, calling upon it to adopt a "clear and unambiguous position" on these marriages, which, according to the commission, "violate human rights by depriving a girl of her childhood".

The request, reported by Arab News, appears to be connected to a growing movement in public opinion, which has been sensitized by a series of events that have recently come to light, related to marriages of young girls. The practice, which is widespread beyond Saudi Arabia and is especially common outside of the big cities, often has economic implications, in the sense that elderly men buy child brides from their fathers. But there are also cases of marriages involving young boys, like the one that took place a few weeks ago between 11-year-old Muhammad Al-Rashidi and his 10-year-old cousin, out of family interests.

In all of the cases, according to commission head Turki Al-Sudairy, in addition to violating international agreements signed by Saudi Arabia, "child marriages should be considered to be the same as forced marriages since valid consent has not been obtained". Al-Sudairy also emphasizes the serious health problems that threaten a young girl who is not psychologically, physically, and sexually prepared for marriage. "Young girls are not ready for the responsibilities that come with being a wife, a sexual partner and a mother".

The fact is that, although the woman's consent is required, some officials who oversee marriages do not ask about it. Moreover, marriages can be divided into two phases: in the first, there is the pledge that is made by the bride to be or by the "guardian" that every woman must have - and it sometimes happens that parents pledge their daughters in marriage at just one year old - and in the second the wife, already legally married, goes to her husband's house, but in theory only after puberty.

Although in an indirect way, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, can also be numbered among the opponents of this system. The mufti has stated that "Islam affirms that both parties must express agreement to the marriage contract", and "the guardian may not impose his own choice on the woman" or "force her to marry someone she does not want". Recently, he has also spoken out against the practice of giving young girls in marriage to elderly men.

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