P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
Published — Friday 11 January 2013
Last update 11 January 2013 6:33 am
JEDDAH: The marriage of a Jazan girl to an 84-year-old man has resulted in plenty of soul-searching and calls for legislation to prevent the marriage of young girls to elderly men by making 18 the minimum age for a girl to get married. Some officials are also making demands that the government take greater steps to fight poverty, one of the main reasons that families marry off their daughters to elderly men.
“We have requested the Justice Ministry to fix the minimum age at 18 for the marriage of a girl to be legalized. Up until now, however, no action has been taken,” said Suhaila Hammad, a member of the National Society for Human Rights.
“For girls under the age of 18, marriage is likely to result in physical and mental health problems and I again request the ministry to adopt a law preventing such marriages in order to avoid their negative effects,” Hammad told the Arab News.
One justification for such marriages stems from claims that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) married Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) at the age of nine. “This is an incorrect report. The Prophet married Aisha when she was 19,” Hammad said citing evidence of her age.
Hammad urged the government to implement more measures to fight poverty across the country. According to press reports, the father of the Jazan girl, a Yemeni, married his daughter to the 84-year-old man because of the extreme poverty in which he found himself. The NSHR helped the girl divorce the old man.
“I do not even have proof of my identity nor of my daughter’s, due to my difficult financial conditions, which have prevented me from following up my transactions with government agencies to get an ID card.”
He also said that it was the money that persuaded him to grant permission for the elderly man to marry his daughter. He currently lives in a house made of hay along with his 13 sons and daughters. The dowry was estimated at SR45,000 in addition to costs that came to SR35,000.
The groom, Haider Ali Masrahi, claimed that after the wedding ceremony, he took his bride to his house, where she locked herself in a room until two of her brothers came and accompanied her back to her father’s house. Masrahi also said that he had only gotten back SR20,000 of the dowry he delivered.
“It is the duty of the government to provide jobs and sustenance to those residing in the country, including foreigners,” Hammad argued, pointing out that poverty is the main motivation for families marrying off their young daughters. “That Yemeni man has been living in the Kingdom for years.
“The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor should work together to support such people by giving them jobs and providing them with necessary financial assistance. We should not force them into a situation to sell their daughters.”
Hammad also said such poor residents should be given job training. “It is better we make use of these foreign residents who have been living in the Kingdom for years, instead of recruiting more foreign workers,” she said.
The Social Affairs Ministry has launched a nationwide survey of poor districts in order to do a needs analysis of the people living there. Muhammad Al-Awad, spokesman for the ministry said a team of experts from the ministry has already started its work in Riyadh and Jeddah.
He said a number of sociologists, including women, would be deployed in residential districts to conduct research. “The team will be in close contact with the ministry in order to find a quick fix for some of the problems facing the poor,” he said.
The ministry will also provide jobs for the jobless and finance for small-scale projects. “We’ll also coordinate with the Health Ministry to provide them with health services.”
The ministry will also connect poor people with the nearest charitable societies to provide them with urgent assistance.
“The team will visit all regions of the Kingdom, especially those in remote areas. They will also cover people who do not receive any social insurance and are ignorant of the ministry’s various services,” Al-Awad said.