Child Marriages in Saudi Arabia – Is It Time For A Change

A random scree shot of girls or child brides forced into marriage by parents

Picture From Examiner Article – Credited to YouTube

Child marriages are unfortunately a common event in Saudi Arabia, as one 15 year old girl found out earlier this month. She was married to a 70 year old Saudi Arabian man, who paid a dowry of roughly $17,500 – $20,000. As many would expect, the young child was terrified, and on her wedding night she locked herself in a room in order to keep her “husband” away from her. Due to this lack of consummation, the 70 year old man wanted his money back, claiming he was fooled by the girl’s family. A divorce has since been granted, and the two are no longer married.

However, just because the two are now divorced does not solve the real issue here – should Saudi Arabia do more to prevent child marriages from happening in the first place? As of now, in Saudi Arabia there is no legal minimum age for marriage. Therefore, while this child marriage is outrageous and disturbing here in the United States, it is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia. More interesting though is that while many states in America have the minimum age at around 16 or wiht parental consent – only one year higher than the child in this case –, in Kansas 15 year olds can get married by “a district court judge who thinks that getting married at such a young age would be in that individual’s best interest.”

Should Saudi Arabia enact a law setting a minimum age for marriage? Would this law be enforced? Is this case an instance of a tradition gone awry, or is this more akin to child prostitution or trafficking? What about the outlier that is Kansas – does the fact that a judge has to approve the child marriage make it less outrageous, or should Kansas re-evaluate its law on this matter as well?

 

Sources

CNN

Examiner

AWID

US Marriage Laws

5 comments

  1. Child marriage is a very disturbing practice, but unfortunately it is not uncommon in many foreign countries. One must question a parent’s motives in forcing their young child to engage in such a practice. Obviously, the biggest motivator is money. The dowry is paid to the girl’s family. But isn’t this like selling your own child? How is this not illegal? I have also read that some parents believe it is in their child’s best interests to choose their mate. It forces them to mature at a young age. I simply cannot fathom how it would be in a fifteen-year-old girls best interest to marry a 70 year old man. It is also true that many states in America allow children as young as sixteen to marry with parental consent. The major difference is that the girls in the United States are not being forced. They are consenting to the marriage. In Saudi Arabia, child marriage can be seen as forced marriage, which is a crime.

  2. This story is quite disturbing. It would be disturbing to most anyone in the United States, as Alison points out. However, it does not seem the issue is as much about the legal age of marriage as it is about parental abuse and a flawed system. One of the articles points out that Saudi Law requires mutual consent for marriage, common sense would dictate that as well, and that requirement was clearly not met in this case. The girl ran away from her “husband” and clearly did not want this contract honored.

    It does appear that this act of the man paying a dowry of $17, 500-$20,000 is more akin to human trafficking than anything else. Maybe this act of offering money to the family of a bride makes this system so flawed. The financial incentive makes parents act in a way they might not otherwise, when it comes to the future of their children. If the government oversaw dowry payments, or maybe outlawed them, a lot of problems would probably go away. Younger people would marry each other because the money is not an issue.

    Certainly there should be a minimum age that people should get married, where at least they have matured to the point where rational decision-making is partially in place. However, it seems that if mutual consent remains required, and the financial incentives to the families can be eliminated, reduced or monitored, then problems such as the one highlighted in this post would not occur.

  3. At a minimum Saudi Arabia should enact legislation raising the age for marriage. However, even if this law were to be enforced, the atrocities associated with child marriages wouldn’t change. These girls could still be subjected to enforced prostitution and rape, as well as psychological abuses. The fact that these children are essentially being sold is certainly human trafficking and enslavement. International bodies such as the International Criminal Court protect girls and women from sexual slavery, which is exactly what is going on here. What makes the situation even worse is that parents are selling their children and are knowingly subjecting them to these abuses. Unfortunately, due to cultural differences the line between arranged marriages and forced marriages have become murky, and it would be difficult for countries such as Saudi Arabia to enact legislation without stirring up cultural divides. However, something still needs to be done in order to protect these children from a lifetime of abuses.

  4. I agree with the other comments that this practice is very similar to child trafficking, however I do not think that enacting a law setting a minimum age for marriage will do much good. I believe that this practice is driven more by culture and tradition as opposed to the money aspect in most cases. In the United States, the notion of a dowry is an uncommon, even perplexing idea. However, in many other countries, a dowry is a prerequisite to show that you have the means to provide for your wife. The potential husband does not always give money but sometimes other goods or farm animals even. Implementing an age limit might just postpone this practice for a few years but will not change the fact that a dowry will still be paid. Is there really a difference between paying $20K to marry a 15 year old and a 16 year old? The child bride will be equally mortified regardless of the age that her parents decide she should marry. What needs to happen is a culture shift, moving away from the practice of giving a dowry, which will not likely happen anytime soon.

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