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.


April:19:2012 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (15) | Permalink
15 Responses to “Setting a Minimum Age for Marriage”
  1. 1
    Corey Said:
    April:19:2012 - 09:23 

    Individuals can marry as young as 14 in New York with parent and court permission, and be under the age of 16 in Idaho with parent permission only. Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana and Nevada all permit marriages as young as 16 with parent permission. Let’s hope they also catch up to the 21st century.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    April:19:2012 - 09:33 

    I don’t really have a problem if parental or judicial consent is required. I’m not in a position to judge the maturity level of someone I don’t know. While I don’t think contemporary marriages of young teens have much of a chance of success, I think they’re better than the alternatives, such as single, teenage mothers. Most of these very young US marriages do involve premarital pregnancies.

  3. 3
    Saudi Jawa Said:
    April:19:2012 - 23:30 

    @Corey:

    14 vs. 8. Really, is there a contest?

  4. 4
    Solomon2 Said:
    April:22:2012 - 08:49 

    John, I used to agree on the minimum age bit but I don’t anymore. The reason is the growth of bride-stealing in Muslim countries. The only protection I can think will work is what worked centuries ago, very early marriage for the girls.

  5. 5
    John Burgess Said:
    April:22:2012 - 09:35 

    @Solomon2: While I think finding the proper age is debatable, I don’t think that the proper age is anywhere near 8 or 9. I’ve not much of a problem with 16, possibly a bit younger, given parental or judicial consent based on the maturity of the individual girl, but much younger than that gets directly into the realm of child abuse, I think.

  6. 6
    Lola Said:
    April:22:2012 - 15:34 

    http://www.theworldobserver.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3209:saudi-mufti-okays-marriage-for-10-year-old-girls&catid=54:around-the-world&Itemid=188

    Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti okayed marriage for girls starting at age 10 and criticized those who want to raise the legal marriageable age, according to news reports.
    Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh said a girl becomes ready for marriage at 10 or 12 according to Islam and stressed that Islamic law is not by any means oppressive to women, the London-based al-Hayat reported Wednesday.

    “Those who call for raising the age of marriage to 25 are absolutely mistaken,” al-Sheikh said in a lecture he gave at the faculty housing mosque of Imam Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.

    “Our mothers and grandmothers got married when they were barely 12. Good upbringing makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties at that age.”

    Al-Sheikh’s statements came in response to a question from a female attendee about marrying minor girls without their consent.

    The Saudi National Human Rights Association (NHRA) has criticized the prevalence of the marriage of minors in the kingdom and considered it a violation of childhood. The association has sought to work with authorities to curb the practice and protect children’s rights.

    NHRA stressed that underage marriages are also a breach of several United Nations treaties including the Child Rights Treaty, which Saudi signed in 1996 and the Treaty for the Rights of Women that the kingdom joined in 2000.

    Last year a similar fatwa, or religious ruling, by Salafi preacher Sheikh Mohamed al-Maghrawi allowing girls as young as nine to marry was condemned by Morocco’s Supreme Scientific Council. The council said it lacked religious validity because it was based on only one case—the marriage of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) to Aisha bint Abu-Bakr.

  7. 7
    Solomon2 Said:
    April:22:2012 - 20:48 

    “much younger than that gets directly into the realm of child abuse, I think.”

    I don’t think such marriages should be consummated at such an early age. The fact remains that, for minorities and the disadvantaged, this is the only deterrent they may have to sexual predation.

  8. 8
    Muhibullah Said:
    April:23:2012 - 05:36 

    Setting a minimum age for marriage is harmful and draconian since people attain puberty at different ages.

  9. 9
    Mikeh106 Said:
    April:23:2012 - 09:03 

    @ Muhibullah – abuse is abuse no matter what society, mores, morals or religion. 8 is absolutely abuse. So is 12. 14 – maybe yes, maybe no. 16 and above – no. And I don’t care if the prophet married a hundred underaged girls, it is still wrong. No exceptions, no excuses. Bride-stealing should be dealt with as rape, and the punishment severe. And the Grand Mufti should limit his opinions to areas where he can claim expertise. Age for marriage is obviously not one of them.

  10. 10
    Andrew Said:
    April:24:2012 - 14:06 

    In todays time, well..Im a practicing Jew, a conservative jew with Liberal politics. The fact that everyone hits puberty at a different time is the whole point, of why people consider it abuse. Im not ready to be ethnocentric and impose my morals on other cultures, cause while 18 maybe the age of marriage here, 14 might be acceptable somewhere else…HOWEVER tto much acceptance of various cultures morals can led to crimes against humanity itself and unacceptable by all moral standards. I would thing 13 in this culture would be acceptable, so long as the bride is consenting, and its accepted by a court and parents. Otherwise 16. In todays world people cant follow exactly Mohameds teachings to a T. if some say Muhammed married at 13, in Saudi society, that may be acceptable. but marriage before the majority of women hit puberty, is abuse regardless of how its put.

  11. 11
    mary Said:
    April:25:2012 - 00:24 

    I read somewhere that Muhammed took Aisha into his home when she was 6, so that when he became aware she was menstrual made her ready for marriage, that happened at 9yo. I also read that a man should take the girl into his home for the reasons as outlined, menstruation, marriage, sex. This is obviously the practice today in SA and other conservative Muslim countries? Dad and his friend just swap daughters. I know of 4 girls who menstruated at 9- 10 -11 years. They were definitely not ready for forced marriage, physically, mentally, psychologically, they were little girls and not ready for sex, washing, cooking, cleaning, child bearing, child rearing etc. All child abuse at such young years.

  12. 12
    Sparky Said:
    April:25:2012 - 04:18 

    Andrew are you the Andrew who always comments here? I’ve often wondered about Saudi Jews…very small percentage of population but they exist nonetheless.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/sheikh-abdul-aziz-al-al-sheikh_n_1450449.html

    Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia strikes again…

  13. 13
    Robert Said:
    April:25:2012 - 07:00 

    Early marriage robs girls of their education. Society suffers because half of the population isn’t able to contribute in a meaningful, intellectual way. It is up to the government to protect women not oppress them.

  14. 14
    SineadF Said:
    April:25:2012 - 10:37 

    “The only protection I can think will work is what worked centuries ago, very early marriage for the girls.”

    What is frightening is this subject is so hotly debated by men – or more accurately middle aged pedophiles.

    Where are the girls’ opinions and permission sought?

    This is the most disgusting and disturbing thread I have read online for some time. Puberty is all that is required to make a female ready for sexual intercourse?

    Are you all completely mad? This is little more than institutionalised rape and pedophilia. Dress it up as Religion and Culture if you like to make it palatable to yourselves and your communities but don’t attempt to fool the outside world.

    I write this a a 41 year old Irish woman fortunate never to have experienced this outrageous barbarism.

  15. 15
    willem Said:
    April:25:2012 - 14:42 

    age 8 how can a 50year old have sex with a girl that age they been doing this for 100s of years time for change.

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