The Shura Council of Saudi Arabia might approve a new draft family law that would raise the age of marriage effectively prohibiting child marriage in the country.
The draft law is currently pending approval by the Shura Council, the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia. If adopted, the law will set the age of marriage at 18 and will prohibit underage girls from getting married. The law comes amidst reports of girls as young as 10 being forced to marry men older than 70.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws setting a minimum age of marriage. As a result of the pressure to bring changes into the family law, the Ministry of Justice released a list of conditions that must be met before a girl under the age of 18 is to marry:
This is not the first proposal to introduce change in Saudi society. However, previous attempts to formally raise the age of marriage age failed. Currently, there is no minimum legal age for marriage, but it is most common for Saudis to marry at the age of about 20.
Cultural traditions and a lack of legal protections are driving millions of girls around the world into early marriage, subjecting them to violence, poverty and mistreatment, international human-rights groups have claimed. Equality Now, citing the UN Population Fund, said in a report issued over the weekend that more than 140 million girls across the globe over the next decade will be married before they turn 18.
“When a young girl is married and gives birth, the vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, curtailed education, violence, instability, disregard for rule of law … continues into the next generation, especially for any daughters she may have,” the report said.
“Child marriage legitimizes human rights violations and abuses of girls under the guise of culture, honor, tradition and religion,” the report said. Often when child brides are married off to older men, it is to restore or maintain family honor or to settle a father’s debts or obtain some other financial gain. A girl married off is seen as one less mouth to feed, and her family members often spend the dowry to support themselves.
Rates of child marriage are highest in the West African nation of Niger, where 75 percent of girls are married before they turn 18 and a third are wed before 15, according to the U.N. Population Fund. In Bangladesh, the rate of child marriage is 66 percent, and in India, 47 percent.
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic nation run under a strict interpretation of Sharia law and very traditional local customs, where the practice of any other religion than Islam is not recognized.
Under the Sharia law non-married couples are not allowed to live or travel together or even meet socially without the appropriate chaperones from their families.
Sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage are strictly prohibited, including for foreign nationals.
Marriage can take place only between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is illegal and is punishable either by a prison sentence or capital/corporal punishment.