Saudi Arabia has no minimum age for marriage. This fact leads to several unhappy outcomes. First, young girls, as young as eight, are sometimes married off by their parents. Their agreement usually involves a hefty payment by the would-be husband, often decades (if not a generation) older than the bride. Various reports, including by Saudi researchers, have found that marriage is not something for small children to undertake for reasons of both psychological and physical health. Then too, child marriage is extremely objectionable to most societies across the world. That Saudi Arabia permits it to continue provides grounds for Saudi-bashing.
Now, Saudi media report, the Ministry of Justice is preparing to announce a minimum age for marriage. The Ministry is not yet prepared to say just what that age is as it is still under discussion.
The major problem facing the Ministry is that child marriage has a long tradition in the region and is not forbidden by Islam. People can point to Islamic history and see that even Mohammed, in a very different time, married Aisha at a young age – various reports say she was 8, 9, or 13.
The fact that something is not forbidden by religion, though, does not mean that it cannot be forbidden by the state. Slavery, too, is permitted within Islam (as it is, textually, within Christianity and Judaism). But societies around the world, including Saudi Arabia in the 1960s, have banned slavery. Not only do attitudes change over time, but circumstances do as well. While child marriage may have made sense when societies were small and under constant threat of annihilation, they no longer do. Saudi society is now mostly urban, tribes and tribal identities are less important, society knows more about the psychology and physiology for young women. Too, the institution of marriage in Saudi Arabia is under great pressure already, with a large proportion of them ending in divorce. Permitting another negative factor to be introduced does nothing to resolve those problems.
While no age is yet stated, I expect it will be set at 13. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were 16, but doubt that Saudi Arabia will go as high as 18, though many of its neighbors have. Saudis go for compromise and consensus and 13 strikes me as the number most likely to find that consensus. This does not mean that that age is fixed forever, though. Once the fact that law can operate in setting a limit, that limit can be later changed. As Saudi society continues to change, as Saudi women continue to be educated and employed, there will be fewer parents who believe that their financial salvation rests in the bodies of their daughters.
Age of consent for marriage of Saudi girls soon
DAMMAM: ARAB NEWS
The Justice Ministry will soon make an announcement to establish the age of consent for Saudi women to marry, local daily Al-Madinah reported yesterday quoting an official source at the ministry.
Director of the Department of Marriage at the ministry Muhammad Al-Babtain said a decision on the issue would soon be announced following the agreement of departments in the ministry involved on deciding on an age of consent.
“The project was discussed by a number of government departments concerned. The ministry deemed it appropriate to decide a certain age for the marriage of the underage girls taking into account its social and psychological aspects,” he said.
Al-Babtain declined to reveal the age of consent for marriage, but said the issue was still being discussed.
He said fixing an age for the marriage of young girls is commensurate with Shariah rules and the culture of the society. “Underage marriages are permissible under Islamic law,” he explained.
Al-Babtain pointed out the ministry had prepared a Shariah-based study that confirmed that marrying young girls was not against Shariah rules.