Written by: Walaa Hawari
RIYADH: Saudi society has been recently exposed to a number of marriages that involve elderly men as old as 60 marrying young girls as young as eight. The marriages shocked many people who objected to such marriages, saying that there is no equality in this type of marriage and that there should be a strong law against such marriages. The question that was raised was how have marriage officials approved such marriages in the first place.
Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Belaihi, a member of the faculty at Imam Saud University, has described the practice of marrying young girls to elderly men “a crime against young girls.”
A Saudi girl, 16, was admitted to the hospital after trying to end her life when she was forced by her father to marry a 75-year-old man. The girl was a part of an exchange deal between two fathers involving their two daughters. The girl had appealed to officials to block the marriage and bring to an end her father’s attempts to marry her off without her consent.
Al-Belaihi agrees totally with the Ministry of Justice’s new regulations, which include imposing disciplinary punishment against marriage officials who marry girls without their consent. Al-Belaihi believes that there should a legal liability on the wali – the legal guardian.
“The definition of wali is misinterpreted,” said Al-Belaihi. “It does not mean the ‘controller’ or ‘dictator’, on the contrary, it means ‘the responsible person for the welfare and wellbeing of the woman.'” He explained that in the Saudi society many women and girls are not exposed to men, and due to their limited experience the wali is supposed to examine the most suitable spouse for them to ensure their rights are maintained.
In this regard, consultant to the Ministry of Justice and member of the Shoura Council, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, stressed the fact that should the wali be conspiring to marry his daughter without her consent or approval he should be deprived of the guardianship over his daughter.
Al-Belaihi says that he finds it irresponsible for marriage officials to overlook the consent requirement.
“Traditions can hold back some marriage officials from seeking the girl’s consent, as it might be uncomfortable for the family to bring the girl in front of the official and the male relatives and expect her to approve or disapprove of her father’s decision … I personally have turned away cases where I found violations and misleading information.”
Although Al-Belaihi acknowledges that, in some cases, the official can be tricked when another woman family member poses as the bride. And since women don’t generally have photo IDs, it can be hard to confirm that the woman giving consent is indeed the bride-to-be.
“The signature is also not sufficient enough in many cases, as it is not a norm for young girls to have an official signature,” he said. Al-Belaihi called on the ministry to find an efficient mechanism to ensure that the bride’s identity is not faked.
Al-Belaihi also said that using the example of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) wife Aisha is not acceptable, as it was a different era when it was the norm for girls to marry at such a young age then.
Courtesy: Arab News