Saudi Arabia has drafted a law to prevent child marriages following a surge in such cases in the conservative Muslim Gulf kingdom and criticism by local and foreign human rights groups, a newspaper has reported.
The draft law is to be debated shortly by Shura, the country’s appointed parliament, and it sets the minimum adult age at 18 years.
“This means fathers will not be allowed to force their daughters to marry if they are below that age without a court order,” the London-based Arabic language daily Al Hayat said, quoting what it described as reliable sources.
The paper said the new law would also give more rights to women and would authorize a married woman to seek a divorce if her husband has a second wife.
The Saudi ministry of justice said early this year it had drafted the long-awaited legislation to restrict child marriages, adding that it would be debated by Shura before it is presented to King Abdullah for endorsement.
The new law bars Maazoun (scholar who performs marriage rites) from conducting the marriage without a prior court approval.
The bride’s father can decided on marriage but has to obtain court consent if she is below 18 years old and must present a medical report showing his daughter is eligible for marriage physically and psychologically. The report must state that marriage does not endanger the girl’s mental and physical health.
Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative Muslim nations, has considered curbing marriages of minors for many years following a sharp rise in such cases and growing criticism of the absence of relevant legislation.
In recent comments, a Shura member who pushed for the enforcement of such laws, lambasted child marriages as a “murder of innocence and childhood.”
Zuhair Al Harthi said the majority of the council supports a law to end child marriage in oil-rich country, with a population of around 30 million.
His comments followed a chorus of criticism by local newspapers and human rights groups against fathers who sell their little daughters to rich bridegrooms.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia’s newspapers opened up the heat against authorities for their failure to enact laws banning child marriage following reports of the wedding of the 12-year-old girl to the 55-year-old Moslem cleric.
The cleric married the girl, a student at a Quran memorization centre in the southern province of Jazan, despite strong objections from her grandfather. The marriage also sparked angry reaction from a local human rights group.
Saudi Arabia’s main activist group, the National Human Rights Commission, said the marriage violated the girl’s rights.
“The marriage constitutes a violation of the rights of this child, who at this age needs to be cared by her family, pursue her education and enjoy her childhood…
we call upon all members of the community to rally against the marriage of children and teenagers. Media institutions should also play a bigger role in defending children and their rights.”
14-year-old Saudi girl ends life at home
A 14-year-old Saudi girl committed a suicide by hanging herself by the ceiling fan in her room while the other members of her family were at home.
Her parents told police they discovered her death after they missed her presence most of the day at their house in the southern Saudi town of Khamis Mushait.
Police said the parents found the girl hanging by the ceiling fan with a rope tied round her neck inside her room.
“Her parents told police that the girl had suffered from psychological problems before her death,” the Arabic language daily Sabq said.