Will Saudi Arabia end child marriage?
May 27th, 2013
11:15 AM ET

Will Saudi Arabia end child marriage?

By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Suad Abu-Dayyeh is the Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, an advocacy group for the human rights of women and girls around the world. The views expressed are her own.

Three years ago, 12-year-old Fatima was "sold" into marriage to a man more than four times her age. Her father, unemployed and addicted to drugs, sold her into wedlock for about $10,500, money that he then used to buy himself a car. You might be asking yourself how this possible. The answer – because there is no minimum age of marriage law in Saudi Arabia.

But Fatima didn’t give up. With the help of Equality Now, her uncle and our Saudi partners, Fatima beat the odds earlier this year to secure something many thought was impossible given the cultural norms she was pushing up against – a divorce. And with new regulations being considered that would effectively set a minimum age for marriage of 16, Saudi Arabia may finally be taking the steps necessary to ensure that children like Fatima are spared a similar ordeal.

After years of debate, the Ministry of Justice has drafted regulations setting 16 as the minimum age of marriage in the Kingdom. If a girl is under 16, her mother’s approval must be received. If a male guardian applies, a designated court of marriage must also approve the marriage before consent can be given. The girl must also be medically and psychologically fit, and there is a provision that the marriage must not be expose her to danger (although these requirements are not elaborated on). The proposals will now be discussed by the Shura Council (the consultative assembly), the cabinet and various governmental committees. A timetable for their passage has not been announced.

Clearly, the draft regulations are only a start, and the exemptions to the minimum age are still troubling. But in a country where the male guardian had absolute power in deciding a girl’s fate, the proposed legislation is a welcome step in the direction of recognizing the discrimination inherent in the male guardianship system.

The draft regulations also help the Saudi government move toward fulfilling its international human rights obligations in relation to ending child marriage, which it should implement  without delay. But it should also press forward and work to meet the internationally recognized standard of a minimum marriage age of 18.

More from CNN: Small step forward on women's rights

Sadly, Saudi Arabia is not the only country sidelining the rights of children – child marriages continue in numerous countries, despite the clear evidence that such marriages have severe adverse physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications for the children involved.  Indeed, the World Health Organization has estimated that over the next decade, 100 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday.

The emotional consequences of child marriage are obvious as the practice violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse. But the adverse impact on their health is equally troubling, with such marriages frequently marking an abrupt initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is considerably older and a relative stranger. Premature pregnancy, meanwhile, carries significant health risks, and pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 years worldwide. Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to education, while stifling the potential for social connections. Marrying girls restricts their mobility, limits their control over resources, leaves them with little power in their new households, and, according to studies by UNICEF, places them at considerable risk of domestic violence.

Saudi Arabia has undoubtedly turned an important corner with these proposed regulations, and has demonstrated an increasing commitment to addressing concerns about its treatment of women and girls. And the draft regulations should be seen for what they are – a step toward addressing the wider issue of male guardianship. Saudi Arabian authorities, however, must be encouraged to abandon discrimination against women and girls, whether it be over access to education, employment or justice through the legal system.

Saudi women, along with all women, should have the ability to make their own life choices, and nobody will lose by restoring fairness and ensuring equal access and opportunity. Empowering women and girls will have enormous economic, cultural and social benefits for Saudi Arabia as a whole. The question now is whether the country’s leaders are willing to keep pressing ahead.

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Topics: Saudi Arabia

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soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Benedict

    Pedophilia permitted is what I call it!!.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • pomusa

      Is it really? Your founding fathers would also be called the same. Shakespeare also. I'm not American so I can get away with this one.

      May 31, 2013 at 11:39 pm | Reply
      • Shim Marom

        Are you suggesting that the American founding fathers married young girls?

        July 16, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • MatthewD

      I was about to say something similar but yours is better

      June 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • Jadestar

      All child marriages are blessed by God!

      January 19, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Saudi Arabia is the biggest women's prison in the world. Guardianship rules severely restrict the freedom of women in Saudi Arabia. This means a woman's life is not her own, her dreams of a happy marriage – with a man of her own choosing – have been taken away from her. Until marriage, guardianship will typically be the job of the father, but this role can be performed by uncles, brothers, and even sons. Women must obtain permission from their guardian to work, travel, study, marry, or even access certain types of healthcare.

    May 28, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
  3. Faith

    "Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to education, while stifling the potential for social connections. Marrying girls restricts their mobility, limits their control over resources, leaves them with little power in their new households."
    – Those are the exact reasons why it will not be outlawed anytime soon because those in charge see the consequences as positive. Plus, the Koran does not place an age restriction on marriage so those adhering to it strictly will be strongly opposed to a ban on child marriages. Also, there is a strong belief that the male guardian has the full right over the females in his family. The relationship is to that one has to any other personal property. Until those cultural views change, child marriage will continue.

    May 28, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  4. Diana

    What about the FLDS crazies who marry young girls to their uncles right here in the good old US? That's not right either, and we can do something about that. It's just easier to point the finger at someone else when you can't fix your own problems.

    May 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Reply
    • Jadestar

      They are A-OK. Stop the slander against good patriarchs like Warren Jeffs. He has done nothing wrong by having 80 wives at 12yo. For all I care he can have 800 at 4yo.

      January 19, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  5. joe anon 1

    this is of concern to americans?

    May 28, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  6. joe anon 1

    notice promo for anthony bourdain's program on cnn.

    watched his episode in syria.

    100% propaganda.

    anthony b, the state dept is you.

    you have now sunk low.

    tried to post at his site. no luck.

    May 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  7. joe anon 1

    americans should be more concerned with gps' next posting about drones and morality – murder.

    May 28, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  8. Ex muslims Union

    In Non Islamic countries, Child marriages are mostly due to Illiteracy and poverty where as in wealthy country like SAUDI, child marriages are due to Their so called Prophet Muhememd who marriaed Ayesha when she was 6 yr old and slept with her when she was 9 years old, under shariya Islamic Law , child marrriages are legal and this barbarism of ISlam is Proudly carried out by Muslism throughout the world and so is Polygamy in the name of non existent allah and pedophile muhemmed and even then Muslims have nerve to defend such barbaric ideology called Kuran and Islam. I say BEING MUSLIM and BEING HUMAN are two mutually exclusive things, you can be either of those, u can be either HUman or you can be either muslim, and a muslim canot be huamn, no matter what

    May 29, 2013 at 5:30 am | Reply
    • Jadestar

      You are offensively dumb. Stop sipping Western liberal propaganda down like Dunkin Donuts coffee.

      In the 19th Century (back before feminism swept the Occident) the age of consent was as low as 7 in Delaware. The West is anti-nature for forbidding what was normal and permitted in every other time, and imposing its repressive views on the world.

      January 19, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  9. Ex muslims Union

    This is perfect example of how Muslim men become number one enemy of their daughters sisters and wives for religion, their religion turns them agaisnt their own family and they still not ready to understand it

    May 29, 2013 at 5:32 am | Reply
  10. Ex muslims Union

    Fareed, thats what Islam is all about, child marriages and Polygamy and hatred for non muslims, which you follow.

    May 29, 2013 at 5:42 am | Reply
  11. Ex muslims Union

    Ohh My Allah, these " MUSLIM WOMEN" in the picture are showing their "HANDS", Ohh My allah, now definitely allah will punish them in hell for immorality, Ohh My allah.

    May 29, 2013 at 5:49 am | Reply
    • Kay Abdul

      FYI, the Prophet says everything should be covered but the face and hands. Only the Wahabis are so extreme as to cover their hands.

      May 29, 2013 at 7:38 am | Reply
      • Ex muslim

        Brains my frend Brains, u muslims need some brains. U r mental slaves of a person who slept with 9 yr old ayesha and who aproves polygamy, human can not get any lower than ISlam, Islam is NAdir or Humanity. Full Stotp

        May 31, 2013 at 5:51 am |
  12. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads is what Towel Heads do. Ban the Islamic cult NOW!

    May 29, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
  13. Skorpio

    The Saudi King must be the role model because he has hundreds of concubines, many of whom are underage girls. On the other hand he is just imitating prophet Mohammed's highly immoral, cruel, violent, merciless and discriminatory conduct.

    May 29, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  14. Abobakar Ibrahim

    hope no one is delibarately blocking my messages! Otherwise he is going to pay for it, today!

    May 31, 2013 at 3:31 am | Reply
  15. Abobakar Ibrahim

    Blocked again

    May 31, 2013 at 3:41 am | Reply
  16. George Patton

    it won't happen without mass riots and US flag burning in muslim world.

    May 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  17. vincent

    I am only sorry that Queen Hillary didn't visit Saudi Arabia before she left as secretary of state.
    She would look just wonderful in a chador, covering up her being so very overweight, and also cover up a million wrinkles or so.
    Saudi Arabia doesn't tell the USA how to run the USA, and the USA should stay out of Saudi Arabia's rules and customs, along with a few 100 other countries as well!!!!!!!

    May 31, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
    • Jadestar

      Amen! One person gets it. God bless all child marriages!

      January 19, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Reply
  18. Ileina

    Islam rocks. If America had arranged marriages, there would be less infidelity.

    May 31, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Reply
    • Ex muslim

      So will America have child marriages and polygamy, just the way your immoral prophet mohmed did, shame eon your life.

      June 2, 2013 at 4:10 am | Reply
  19. pomusa

    Why does the U.S. send so many children to jail if it so concerned about protecting them?

    May 31, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  20. moe

    As a Saudi Muslim, I deprecate such actions in my country. However, there is something that not everyone knows about being a muslim in saudi arabia, just wanna remind everyone that we are also humans, even if there are a lot of crazy things going on in my country that does not mean that everyone is crazy back there. it's just media propaganda, every time i see an article that is related to Islam, Saudi arabia or both, i find this article is either about women rights, death penalty or all these crazy stuff that all americans think about muslims. really ???? do you really think that there is nothing else is going on in that country other than these stuff ?? nothing is good at all ???. You better not depend on media to get the appropriate knowledge about a certain nation or religion. go find a book and start reading. don't believe every single bullish you read or hear in media.

    June 1, 2013 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • Ex muslim

      Being a MUslims and being a Human are two mutually exclusive things, one who is human canot be muslims. Your Ideology called Islam, kuran is against humanity, even its gaint ur own mother daughter and sister, so shame on you that you expect us to consider you as humans, even afteer spilling so much blood on earth by your desert cult of muhemmed. If u wanna be a human , quit Islam.

      June 1, 2013 at 11:10 am | Reply
    • Ex muslim

      Saudi arabiya is epicenter of radical islam and also sponsorer of terrorism throughout the world and epicenter of wahabism(inhuman) and salafism( barbarians), so dont be so proud of saudi, its not for humans.

      June 1, 2013 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • Jadestar

      Don't believe the Western liberal lies! Every child marriage is blessed by God! ZOG hates them because they ensure a strong future for SA!

      January 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  21. mango666

    @ moe,,,,,Hope u stay in Saudi arabia ....With Forever & Ever Plants......

    June 1, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  22. Jim P.

    Notice how the most religious countries have the cruelest and most inhumane laws. "God says it's )OK" can excuse any action.

    And yet I'd swear someone has claimed religion is a civilising influence.

    June 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  23. Skorpio

    Muslims should punish the Saudi King and ALL emirs, caliphs, sultans because these RATS are the role models for child marriage. These monarchs have hundreds of concubines many of whom are underage girls...and boys.

    June 2, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  24. Jadestar

    Willl Saudi Arabia end child marriage? I HOPE NOT! All child marriages are blessed by God! I only wish SA would make it easier for love refugees to flee there and marry their 12-, 10-, or 8-year old spouses without harassment from Western liberal-totalitarian regimes.

    January 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply

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