News from Saudi Arabia: Marriage of Saudi Arabian girl, eight, annulled
- Marriage of Saudi Arabian girl, eight, annulled
Ian Black, Middle East editor The Guardian, Friday 1 May 2009
An eight-year old Saudi Arabian girl who was married off by her father to a man in his 50s has had the union annulled, it was reported yesterday. The case, which had generated local and international outrage, ended with an out-of-court settlement.
The child, who has not been named, had been told by a court last December that she would not be allowed to divorce her husband until she reached puberty.
The settlement, brokered by a new judge in Unaizah, Qassim province, was reached only after lengthy negotiations between the girl's lawyer and the husband.
The previous judge had ruled for the second time earlier this month that the marriage was legal. The father is said to have married the child to a friend to pay a financial debt. It had been stipulated, however, that the groom could not have sex with her until she reached puberty.
The settlement was reached with the help of the governor of Qassim, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, who convinced the husband to back down, said the newspaper al-Hayat. The husband agreed to forgo his original demand for repayment of the $8,000 dowry he gave for the girl.
In many Saudi child marriages, girls are given away to older men in return for dowries, or following the custom by which a father promises his daughters and sons in marriage while still children. But the issue is complicated by different interpretations of sharia law and a lack of legal certainty.
No figures are available for the number of arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents in the kingdom, where the strictly conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common. But human rights groups say they are aware of many such cases.
The shura council, an unelected body that advises the government, is considering setting a minimum age of 18 for marriage. The debate on this issue is seen as part of a wider struggle between advocates of cautious reform and the conservative religious establishment.
Saudi women face gyms ban
Action taken to shut down unlicensed, all-women fitness clubs, condemned as 'shameless' by Saudi Arabia's clerics
Middle East editor guardian.co.uk, Sunday 26 April 2009 16.55 BST
Saudi women could see their private sports clubs and gyms closed down because the government seems likely to agree licensing of the clubs for men only.
But news of the likely shutdown of dozens of female-only gyms came as a government official suggested that women might be allowed to vote in municipal elections, although they would still be barred from running for office.
With the sexes strictly separated in public in the conservative kingdom, the two reports illustrate the slow and fitful nature of the progress made since the octogenarian King Abdullah instigated reforms three years ago.
This year the government appointed its first woman as deputy minister to run a department for female students. But women are still banned from driving and they face many other restrictions. They are required to have compulsory guardianship by a male.
Saudi Arabia's austere brand of Wahhabi Islam forbids the mixing of unrelated members of the opposite sex. In the presence of strange men, women must remain covered.
The problem that has emerged in recent months is that women's gyms are unlicensed and so illegal. Female fitness fans complain of a lack of places to exercise outside the home since they cannot use men's clubs.
The general presidency for sport and youth welfare is responsible for men's gyms but it has not been allowed or prepared to regulate those for women.
Businessman Bader Al-Shibani wanted to open a women's sports club along with the one he runs for men in Jeddah. "I ran into a stone wall at every turn," he said. "Every department I visited denied that they had the authority to give permission to establish a women's club. In the end, I just abandoned the project."
Action has already been taken against two women's gyms, in Jeddah and in Dammam, according to al-Madinah newspaper. Clubs in Riyadh have so far been spared.
This month a group of Saudi women launched a campaign entitled Let Her Get Fat, in opposition to a decision to close down all-female wellness centres that are not under the supervision of a government hospital or clinic.
Leading Saudi clerics have condemned the gyms and clubs as "shamelessness" and warned that women would be tempted to leave their homes and neglect their husbands and children.
However, it has been reported that Prince Mansour bin Muteb, deputy minister for municipal and rural affairs, has suggested that Saudi women be allowed to vote.
Only eligible males voted in municipal elections in 2005, which were the kingdom's first countrywide polls since the state was created in 1932.
Last month Prince Nayef, the powerful interior minister and half-brother of King Abdullah, said the kingdom had no need of either women MPs or elections. Shortly afterward he was named second deputy prime minister, boosting his chances for the succession.
Saudi Arabia Mulls Underage Marriage Ban
By IslamOnline.net & Newspapers
Sat. May. 2, 2009
CAIRO — Coming under local and international criticism after a series of marriages of young girls to men at the age of their fathers, Saudi Arabia is considering a total ban on underage marriages.
"Among the options that are available and excluding the issue of puberty, is to ban marriage for (people) under 18," Justice Minister Mohammed al-Eissa told the Arabic-speaking Asharq al-Awsat daily on Saturday, May 2.
His remarks came two days after an eight-year old girl marrying a man more than 40 years her senior won divorce from a Saudi court following a months-long plight.
The girl regained her freedom after an out-of-court settlement with her 50-year-old husband who refused to divorce her twice before the court.
The Saudi girl was forced by her father to marry the old man last August in exchange for about $13,000.
But the girl's mother had filed a lawsuit demanding the marriage be annulled, but the court upheld the marriage twice after failing to persuade the husband to divorce.
The court also ruled that the girl would have to wait until she reached puberty to file a petition then.
The case was one of numerous child marriage cases highlighted by Saudi media in the recent months.
The justice minister said the ban, if approved, would help solve one of the most continuous problems facing Saudi society.
"A girl below 18 is often not fit to take the family responsibility especially if she quickly gives birth (after marriage)," Eissa said.
For this reason, the majority of child marriages end in divorce, he noted.
Currently, Saudi Arabia has no legal age limit for marriage.
Though the girl must give her consent to the marriage, some marriage officials set the term aside.
In many child marriages, girls are given away to older men in return for hefty dowries or as a result of long-standing custom in which a father promises his daughters and sons to marriage while children.
According to local statistics, in the most of these cases, the marriage is concluded without the girl's knowledge or consent.
A United Nations report on child marriage in 2005 found that 100 million girls were expected to marry by the age of 18 before 2015.
The worst countries for child marriage were Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.