Saudi Arabia is considering enactment of a legislation to ease curbs on mixed marriage and encourage local women to have foreign spouses following a surge in the number of spinsters, officials have said.
The Shura council (the Gulf kingdom’s appointed parliament) is studying a draft law to end long-standing restrictions on mixed marriage that has drawn criticism from officials and tribal leaders over the past years.
The draft law, studied by the Shura’s Social Committee, is considered a policy turnaround in the conservative Muslim nation and reverses recent official proposals to introduce tougher curbs on mixed marriage.
“We are studying the law which will encourage Saudi women to have foreign husbands according to regulations that will fully guarantee their rights,” said Abdul Rahman Suwailim, a member of the Social Committee.
“The law is still under consideration and we are working to ensure it will be comprehensive…we will publicize the draft law once it is completed,” he said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily 'Shams'.
Suwailim said the draft law was prompted by a surge in the number of spinsters in Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy and the world’s oil basin.
“Spinsterhood is a worrying phenomenon in the kingdom…we are studying this problem and will publish full details about it soon,” he said.
Citing private statistics, Shams said Saudi Arabia had around 1.8 million unmarried national women above 30 years old and that their number could exceed four million in the next four years.
It attributed the problem to the fact that many Saudi men prefer foreign wives despite the existing curbs due to the high wedding expenses and dowries demanded by national spouses.
Another reason is the high divorce rate among Saudis, standing at 18,000 cases in 2010, nearly 30 per cent of the total 60,000 marriages last year.
The new draft law is a reversal of a recent tendency by Riyadh to introduce harsher laws against mixed marriage
The kingdom, which controls over 20 per cent of the world’s oil, already enforces controls governing the marriage of Saudis with foreigners.
According to the Saudi media, the Shura considered a draft law in 2010 to impose a fine of up to SR100,000 (Dh99,000) and other penalties against Saudis who have foreign spouses. The law was to be ratified by the Monarch.
The newspapers said the draft law faced reservations from the country’s Human Rights Commission, which has demanded the cancellation of the proposal to deprive those involved in mixed marriage from government loans because such a move will also affect the relatives of the spouse.