Sunday 8 February 2009 (13 Safar 1430)

      Underage marriages and HRC's campaign
      Abeer Mishkhas |
      In its campaign against child marriage, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) 
worked with the Ministry of Health in the preparation of a report on the 
effects of underage marriages on girls. The ministry issued the report in which 
it warned of the physical effects on girls who married at an early age as well 
as on the offspring of their marriages. The report also specified the 
psychological effects of these marriages and said that girls who are deprived 
of their childhoods often end up mentally ill.

      The report was given support later by a senior member of the Islamic 
Jurisprudence Society in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Muhammad Al-Nujaimi. In his 
interview with Shams newspaper - which was carried on the Al-Arabiya website - 
he spoke out against underage marriages from the religious point of view. He 
stressed that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had said that when it comes 
to marriage, the bride's consent must be obtained. Obviously, this requires 
that she be mature enough to think for herself that is hardly the case with an 
eight-year-old or one even younger.

      This is an issue that has been around a long time. If underage marriage 
has become the current burning issue, this is not because of its novelty value 
but because the media have suddenly begun to concentrate on it. It is only 
right for religious scholars, in tandem with medical authorities, to come out 
and denounce the practice. Al-Nujaimi's words target men who believe they can 
marry off their daughters whenever they choose - and of course collect dowries.

      It is not a surprise, however, that some of the replies posted on the 
website carrying Al-Nujaimi's interview were not very supportive of the 
scholar. Some of them said that girls in the desert should be married early 
because they mature more quickly. Others said that by blocking these marriages 
people are depriving their daughters of their basic rights and leading them to 

      In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, HRC spokesman Dr. Zuhair 
Al-Harithy discussed his organization's efforts to engage all the relevant 
government bodies in the campaign against underage marriage. He said that the 
commission was lobbying to establish a marriage age limit that all marriage 
officials must adhere to. They have also been in touch with the Ministry of 
Justice and several governorates concerning cases that have been recently 
reported in the newspapers and have yet to be resolved.

      In a comment on Al-Harithy's interview, a reader, who lives in France, 
said that the commission should study the cases first to see whether the 
particular marriages work. He advised that the commission should not succumb to 
the influence of "imitation or Westernization." The reader went on to say that 
Arabic culture and traditions can make such marriages work and that they were 
the best way to protect young men and women from corruption.

      The reader's remarks actually reflect quite accurately a lot of Saudi 
opinion. There are many people who think of early marriage as a protection from 
corruption. Nonetheless, most people would not allow girls under the age of 15 
to marry.

      Some of the publicized cases in Saudi Arabia concern girls aged 10, 
eight, and sometimes even younger. Obviously some people think that the 
corruption of morals can only be avoided by depriving children of their 
childhood and innocence. But as we have seen in several cases here, early 
marriages can become a lucrative business, and at this point one has to ask who 
is morally corrupt here. Surely a law is called for that forbids this trade in 
young people under any pretex.

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