Wednesday 27 August 2008 (26 Sha`ban 1429)

Editorial: Young girls as commodities
27 August 2008   
THERE have been several cases reported recently of young girls, some as young 
as seven or eight, being married off by their parents to men in their 50s, 60s 
or even older. In some instances, parents are literally selling their daughters 
to older men purely for financial reasons -- to settle debts or to gain a 
substantial dowry for their own use.

The practice is repugnant. Young girls are being treated as potential sex 
slaves, commodities to be bought and sold at whim to satisfy the lusts of old 
men. It has to be stopped. The Grand Mufti has spoken against it and so too has 
the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC). Only this week, the head of the 
commission, Turki Al-Sudairi, called on the Saudi authorities to put an end to 
these marriages. 

There are several issues at stake in what is incontestably a human rights 
violation. The first is the issue of consent. We are not talking about girls 
old enough to make a decision for themselves. We are taking about eight-, nine- 
and 10-year olds and girls even younger. The fact that most marriages here -- 
and in so many countries -- are arranged by parents is irrelevant; the bride 
still has to give her consent, a pivotal element for a valid Islamic marriage. 
Even at 18 and older, she invariably does give her consent, believing her 
parents have made the right choice for her. But that is the point: Girls in 
their late teens are fully aware of what they are doing. There is no way, 
however, that an eight-year-old girl can possibly understand what is happening. 
These are not arranged marriages; they are forced marriages -- contrary to 
Islam as well as to any sense of natural justice.

The second issue is money. It is quite clear that in many of these marriages, 
girls are being treated as objects, something to be bought and sold. As for 
parents keeping and using the dowry for themselves, this again raises the issue 
of consent. In Islam, the dowry must be given to the bride. It is illegal in 
Islam to take someone else's property without their consent, be he or she a 
stranger or a son or daughter.

Lastly, there is also the matter of the girl's needs. At eight or 12, she is 
still a child, far too young and immature to take on the role of wife, sexual 
partner and mother. Children need their childhood if they are to grow up into 
balanced human beings. Marrying such young girls to older men, especially men 
over 50, exposes them to both psychological and physical risk. It may well 
damage them, again both psychologically and physically, for the rest of their 

The HRC has already managed to prevent one wedding between a 10-year-old girl 
and a 70-year-old man. Clearly it will act in a similar way if it learns of 
other such planned unions. But that is not an acceptable state of affairs. Many 
others will happen - simply because the commission will not hear about them. 
They have to be made illegal, with penalties for the parents and the would-be 
husbands. In other parts of the world, men who marry prepubescent girls and 
parents who allow their young daughters to marry older men can end up in jail. 
The authorities here in the Kingdom need to act at once in order to protect 
young girls

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