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Saudi Arabia

Marriage age 18 to restrain dowry-hungry dads

Saudis are eagerly awaiting the approval of a new draft law by the Shoura Council which prevents women under 18 from getting married. The draft law pending approval sets the age of adulthood at 18 and allows women under that age to marry only upon procuring a court order.
The move comes in the wake of recent reports of girls as young as 10 being married off to men in their 70s which sparked a nationwide debate in Saudi courts compelling critics to denounce the practice. They called upon religious and legal authorities in the country to rule against the phenomenon which, they feel, is dangerous to society.
The Ministry of Justice released in its recommendations that marriages of girls below 18 could only take place upon a court approval in writing. Currently, the Qadi, (person who solemnizes marriages) has the authority to marry girls off at any age.
According to the draft law, the court order is governed by three conditions for allowing girls under 18 to get married. First, the custodian needs to request the court to make an exception for his daughter to get married before reaching 18. He also needs to provide the court with a medical report that marriage will not cause the girl physical or psychological harm and that report will be issued by a specialized committee comprising a gynecologist, physiologist and a social expert stating that the girl is mentally and physically fit for marriage.
Secondly, the court’s judge has to document the approval of the girl and her mother, particularly if the parents are divorced. The final condition is related to a period of waiting after signing the contract enjoining upon the couple to wait for a while before finalizing the marriage procedures. This will give the girl enough time to prepare herself for the new life.
Besides the official ruling, the draft law also has a media plan, which aims to educate society, especially parents.
A sociological expert in the psychiatric hospital in Asir, Lutfiya Salman said that most cases of early marriages occur in remote areas among poverty-stricken families who are often uneducated and prone to following customs.
She advised parents to be sensitive to their daughters’ feelings and provide a supportive environment, which would prevent them from running away from home.
The new law aims to reduce the high rate of divorce cases among Saudis. Supervisor of the Human Rights Commission in Asir said that the marriages of minors is a crime against women where custodians exploit their Shariah right to marry off girls at a young age in exchange of a dowry.
“This draft law also gives the women the right to ask the court to overturn the marriage decision if they weren’t consulted in the matter,” Al-Yami said.

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