Wednesday 26 November 2008 (29 Dhul Qa`dah 1429)
Age of adulthood raised to 18
JEDDAH: The Shoura Council has passed legislation raising the age of
adulthood from 15 to 18 amid strong opposition from the council's president and
some members, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported yesterday.
A total of 93 members supported the amendment, which defined adulthood as
starting at the age of 18. According to the daily, the Islamic, Judicial and
Child Rights Committee tried hard to maintain the signs of puberty or the age
of 15 as the beginning of adulthood.
The age of adulthood has been a topic of debate among Islamic scholars
for a long time. Some of them consider showing signs of manhood or menstruation
as the end of childhood.
Azib Al-Misbil, chairman of the Islamic, Judicial and Child Rights
Committee, said changing the age of adulthood from 15 to 18 is against the
rules of Shariah.
He recalled that some companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) took
part in battles when they were only 15 and that this is proof that adulthood
begins at 15.
However, Abdul Aziz Al-Qasim, a former judge who specialized in Islamic
legislation, said it was "contradictory" for the Saudi government departments
to adopt two ages of adulthood. Al-Qasim was referring to practices such as
that of the traffic authorities to deny driving licenses to anyone under 18,
while the Passport Department requires the consent of parents prior to allowing
young Saudi men under 21 to travel abroad. He also pointed out that the
Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs does not grant land to those under 18
unless they are orphans or disabled.
The former judge called for considering the actual age, not just
biological signs, as the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood,
especially since there are no clear-cut Shariah rules on the issue.
Al-Qasim denied the existence of any Islamic evidence for those who
consider the signs of adolescence as the end of childhood and said the
participation of some of the Prophet's (peace be upon him) companions in
battles at the age of 15 was a different matter altogether.
A number of Shoura Council members, who opted not to be identified, said
the draft law was a leap in Saudi legislation and in line with international
Saudi Arabia has signed an international agreement on child rights, which
considers anyone under 18 as a child. The agreement stipulates that capital
punishment could not be applied on anyone below 18.
Khaled Al-Mutairi, a lawyer, said Saudi Arabia has made the international
agreement an integral part of its national laws.
He said that in the absence of criminal laws and even under Shariah, no
one under 18 should be beheaded. "The problem arises because some judges ignore
these international agreements," he added.