The 21-year-old girl is the latest, and definitely not the last, example of the suffering resulting from child marriages in the Kingdom.
Her father married her off to an 80-year-old man when she was only 10 in return for money, depriving her of the right to a normal childhood, education and a more suitable marriage.
Shareefa then discovered by chance she had actually been divorced ten years ago after six months of marriage, despite not being notified at the time.
After suffering at her husband’s hands and living with his two other wives, children and grandchildren, who were about her age, at his house in the Jazan region for six months, the old man took her back to her family’s area in Dammam and left her in the street so she could go home.
“Many long agonizing years passed, and there was no news from him. Whenever I talked to my father about my situation, he would just ignore me,” says Shareefa, swallowing her tears.
She added that she accepted her situation as she was too young to comprehend her rights.
Her mother had tried all possible ways to stop Shareefa’s marriage, but neither the father nor the husband, who she begged to wait until she was a few years older, listened to her.
The mother also went to court to file a suit against the father for failing to register or complete any identification papers for her six other children, which resulted in them not being enrolled at school.
The father then divorced her five years ago and took all the children away where she could not reach them, including Shareefa who was already suffering.
Yet Shareefa’s life was about to get more painful after her father’s death two years ago.
“I was able to be finally reunited with my children and we started on a journey to reclaim Shareefa and my other children’s rights,” says the mother.
They then went to a court in the Eastern Province to seek Khola (an enforced divorce based on a woman’s demand), as they had finally received identification papers for Shareefa based on her father’s death certificate, only to receive more shocking news.
They discovered that Shareefa had been divorced ten years ago, but was not informed and, therefore, did not receive any divorce documents.
“Shareefa is now 21, she has lost more than 10 years of her life, her chance for an education, a decent marriage and normal life. Who is going to take responsibility for what she has gone through?” asks the heartbroken mother, adding that they are determined to push for compensation from those responsible for her daughter’s suffering.
The mother also claims that the father was taking advantage of Shareefa’s situation by promising her hand in marriage to other men and asking them to bribe her husband into divorcing her.
“Her father would then take the money and flee to another city,” says the mother.
Shareefa is now swallowing her pain and dreaming of a better life that has been ripped from her hands, despite facing a dark future devoid of any hope.
“I am struggling to maintain a home with six children on only SR800 a month” says Shareefa’s mother, pointing out that the Social Affairs Department is only providing benefits for her as her children do not have legal documentation.
The family’s lawyer Faisal Al-Otaibi is pursuing legal action against Shareefa’s husband who abandoned and divorced her without informing her 10 years ago, as well as against the court that also did not notify her.
Al-Otaibi described the family’s circumstances as desperate, from their ramshackle house to the legal battle they now face over their right to education and healthcare.
“Her legal guardian was always absent, even when he was alive. The guardian should be a responsible person, and her father wasn’t,” says Al-Otaibi.
“We are still waiting for our living conditions to get better, although Shareefa’s lost years will never come back,” says the mother.
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