JEDDAH: The Shoura Council has passed legislation raising the age of adulthood from 15 to 18 amid strong opposition from the council’s president and some members, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported yesterday.
A total of 93 members supported the amendment, which defined adulthood as starting at the age of 18. According to the daily, the Islamic, Judicial and Child Rights Committee tried hard to maintain the signs of puberty or the age of 15 as the beginning of adulthood.
The age of adulthood has been a topic of debate among Islamic scholars for a long time. Some of them consider showing signs of manhood or menstruation as the end of childhood.
Azib Al-Misbil, chairman of the Islamic, Judicial and Child Rights Committee, said changing the age of adulthood from 15 to 18 is against the rules of Shariah.
He recalled that some companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) took part in battles when they were only 15 and that this is proof that adulthood begins at 15.
However, Abdul Aziz Al-Qasim, a former judge who specialized in Islamic legislation, said it was “contradictory” for the Saudi government departments to adopt two ages of adulthood. Al-Qasim was referring to practices such as that of the traffic authorities to deny driving licenses to anyone under 18, while the Passport Department requires the consent of parents prior to allowing young Saudi men under 21 to travel abroad. He also pointed out that the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs does not grant land to those under 18 unless they are orphans or disabled.
The former judge called for considering the actual age, not just biological signs, as the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood, especially since there are no clear-cut Shariah rules on the issue.
Al-Qasim denied the existence of any Islamic evidence for those who consider the signs of adolescence as the end of childhood and said the participation of some of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) companions in battles at the age of 15 was a different matter altogether.
A number of Shoura Council members, who opted not to be identified, said the draft law was a leap in Saudi legislation and in line with international conventions.
Saudi Arabia has signed an international agreement on child rights, which considers anyone under 18 as a child. The agreement stipulates that capital punishment could not be applied on anyone below 18.
Khaled Al-Mutairi, a lawyer, said Saudi Arabia has made the international agreement an integral part of its national laws.
He said that in the absence of criminal laws and even under Shariah, no one under 18 should be beheaded. “The problem arises because some judges ignore these international agreements,” he added.