Sunday 15 February 2009 (20 Safar 1430
Mother calls for law against child marriage
Walaa Hawari | Arab News
RIYADH: Despite continuous efforts by private and government bodies to
eliminate marriages involving minors, such marriages do take place every so
often. In a recent case, two sisters from Al-Jouf, aged 13 and 14, were married
off by their father to two elderly men.
"Their father held their hands as they signed their marriage contracts.
They did not know what they were signing," said the mother of the two girls,
Nowayer. "When I was informed, I rushed to their father's house and confronted
the marriage contractor asking him whether he heard the girls consent to the
marriages, and whether he had seen results of their premarital tests. He
replied it was the father's prerogative to marry them," she added.
Nowayer, an educational supervisor and mother of five girls and one boy,
said she was in an abusive marriage for over eight years before filing for
divorce. She said her ex-husband was aggressive, uncivilized and irresponsible.
"When I asked him to divorce me he refused, something that forced me to
go to court to file for khula (a form of divorce granted under Islamic law in
which a woman is able to secure a divorce in lieu of financial compensation),"
Her husband demanded SR100,000, a sum Nowayer was unable to pay, and she
remained trapped for more than two years. "I tried to explain to the judge that
I did not have the money and that my dowry was not even close to this amount,
but the judge insisted," said Nowayer, adding she was able to convince her
ex-husband to reduce the amount to SR70,000, which she was able to raise with
the help of her family.
After securing a divorce, Nowayer's difficulties increased as her husband
used her children to make her life more difficult. "He would not pay child
support or even ask about them for months. Sometimes, he would take them and
forbid me from seeing them for months," she said.
She added that her ex-husband totally ignored her children for 18 months
before their marriages. "One day, last month, he called asking the older girls,
who are 13 and 14, to dress up as he would be picking them up and taking them
to a family occasion," she said.
It was only when she received a phone call from her sister that she
realized what was going on. "I rushed to his house barefoot to find that the
marriage contractor had begun my little children's marriages," she said.
Nowayer sent a telegram to the minister of justice and the minister of
health asking them to interfere, but received no response. "I even informed the
Social Services Department in Riyadh who promised to interfere but as soon as
the issue reached the Al-Jouf province, where I live and where my ex-husband
has many connections because of his line of work, things got stalled," she said.
Nowayer had no choice but to contact human rights organizations to try
and reverse the marriages or postpone consummation for at least three years
until the girls grow older. "The Human Rights Commission is the only body that
responded. They have taken my case and my requests to the Ministry of Justice,
and are following up on them," she said.
Zuhair Al-Harithy, HRC spokesman, said his organization was following up
on this and other similar cases. He added that recommendations have been sent
to the Ministry of Justice to take action. "It's our mission to introduce human
rights into society and create awareness about them," he said, adding that
there are cultural issues that need to be tackled in a progressive manner.
Al-Harithy said the HRC and the ministries of Justice and Health share
common interests. The Ministry of Health recently issued a report on the
physical and emotional problems women endure as a result of early marriage.
The report was subsequently sent to the minister of justice, along with
recommendations to set a minimum marriage age.
In the meantime, Nowayer - prevented from seeing her daughters by her
former in-laws - waits for a solution to her problem.
"I wonder when there will be a law protecting women and children from
being lost in this weird system. I struggled to get a divorce. I was deprived
from alimony and my children did not receive child support. Finally, I've ended
up losing my little girls who are no more than kids to a marriage that I know
for sure they have no understanding or comprehension of," said Nowayer. "We
need a law organizing the family.