Child marriage is “murder of innocence”

A Saudi legislator who pushed for the enforcement of laws to curb widespread child marriage in the Gulf Kingdom has denounced such a phenomenon, saying it amounts a murder of innocence and childhood.

Zuhair Al Harthi, a member of Shura (appointed parliament) said the majority of the council now supports a legislation to end child marriage in the world’s dominant oil power following intensifying criticism worldwide.

In comments published in the Saudi Arabic language daily Okaz, Harthi said it was time for the Gulf Kingdom to act against this controversial practice to preserve its image in the world as home to Islam’s shrines.

His comments followed intensifying criticism by newspapers of the absence of laws against fathers who sell their little daughters to rich bridegrooms. The campaign gained momentum in late 2010 after reports that a 55-year-old man married a 12-year-old girl with the blessing of her father.

“To be frank, I want to say that the marriage of minor girls amounts to a murder of innocence and violation of childhood…it is an already losing deal,” Harthi said.

“These little girls are being subject to crimes involving manipulation, quick profit and mere pleasure…they are not capable yet of shouldering the burden of marriage nor can they even realize its meaning.”

Harthi was behind the idea of drafting legislation to curb child marriage in Saudi Arabia and his efforts led to several debates by Shura over the past year.

At its session last week, the Shura finally endorsed Harthi proposal and asked the ministry of justice to enact a law restricting such marriages.

“Shura agreed proposals to draft a law introducing curbs on child marriage,” a statement said. “The law will force sheikhs and maazouns (Moslem scholars and marriage performers to abide by the new curbs.”

Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed Al Issa said early this year the Kingdom, one of the most conservative Muslim nations, is planning to enact a law to regulate the marriage of teenage girls following a surge in such weddings and growing criticism by human rights groups and other international agencies.

He said the new regulations are needed to put an end to what he described as widespread controversy and confusion about such marriages "The Ministry is studying a draft law to regulate the marriage of teenage girls," he said, without giving details of the law and the date of its enforcement.

"The marriage of under-age girls in the country is not a phenomenon yet as some claim... those who say this are wrong. We are considering regulations in line with the Islamic Shariah to govern this kind of marriage."

Al Issa said he hoped the new law would contribute to "ending all problems and confusion associated with female teen age marriage".

Harthi said child marriage also constituted a “real social imbalance” in Saudi Arabia, adding that strict measures are needed to tackle the problem.“Saudi Arabia must act now to put an end to this bad practice not because it is signatory to international agreements on the protection of children but because it is a real social and human problem…we should not be ashamed of acknowledging this problem so we can tackle it,” he said.

“This problem is now affecting our lives, our society and the lives and future of our children…I have spoken to many scholars and intellects and all of them agreed that there is nothing in religion that prevents controlling this problem.”

In late 2010, 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 a 12-year-old girl to a 55-year-old Moslem cleric.

“These acts should be stopped,” said the Arabic language daily Shams, just a few days after another major newspaper, Alwatan, described the marriage of the girl in the southern province of Jazan as “a new tragedy.”

The 55-year-old Saudi cleric married the girl, a student at a Koran memorization centre in Jazan, despite strong objections from her grandfather. The marriage also sparked angry reaction from a local human rights group.

In a strongly-worded statement, Saudi Arabia’s main activist group, the National Human Rights Commission, said the marriage violates 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.”

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