By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A senior cleric in Saudi Arabia has publicly defended the practice of permitting girls as young as 10 years old to marry in that country, saying those who think this practice is inhumane are following a “bad path.”
“It is wrong to say it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,” Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, the country’s grand mufti, told Al-Hayat news. “A female who is 10 or 12 is marriageable and those who think she’s too young are wrong and are being unfair to her.”
No one knows how many children are being forced into marriages in Saudi Arabia, but activists who are working to protect these young girls say this is a long-standing tradition. Girls are given in return for hefty dowries or as a result of a custom in which a father promises his infant daughters and sons to cousins out of a belief that marriage will protect them from illicit relationships.
The mufti’s comments come when Saudi human rights groups are pushing the government to put an end to these marriages and to define a minimum age for marriage. Just last week, the government-run Human Rights Commission publicly condemned marriages of minor girls, calling them an “inhumane violation” that robs children of their rights.
The commission’s statement followed a recent ruling by a Saudi court that dismissed a divorce petition by the mother of an eight-year-old girl whose father married her off to a man in his 50s.
Newspaper reports said the court argued that the mother did not have the right to file such a case on behalf of her daughter and said that the petition should be filed by the girl when she reaches puberty.
When the mufti was asked about the practice of parents who force their underage daughters to marry, he said: “We hear a lot about the marriage of underage girls in the media, and we should know that Islamic law has not brought injustice to women.”
He went on to say that a good upbringing would make a girl capable of carrying out her duties as a wife and that those who say women should not marry before the age of 25 are following a “bad path.”
“Our mothers and before them, our grandmothers, married when they were barely 12,” he said.
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