Calls Mount for Restricting Underage Marriages
Najah Alosaimi, Arab News — marriage in Pakistan 
RIYADH, 9 May 2008 — Following reports in the media of child marriages in the Kingdom, religious scholars and human rights activists are calling for legislation to set a statutory minimum age for marriage.Mohammed Al-Zulfa, a member of the Shoura Council, said that there is an urgent need to set a minimum age for marriage taking the mental, emotional and physical maturity of prospective couples into consideration.According to the Shariah, maturity is associated with puberty, which could start at the age of nine for girls and at the age of 11 for boys.Although there are no statistics, child marriages do occur in the Kingdom, especially in rural areas.According to Sayyidaty magazine, Mohammed Al-Rashidi, 11, married his 10-year-old cousin, Haifa, last March in the northern city of Hail.The magazine reported that Mohammed wanted to get married to his cousin, as they enjoyed playing on the Play Station together — a comment that trivializes the institution of marriage.

To some families, marriage solves traditional and religious taboos. For instance, typical Saudi norms prevent cousins from seeing or contacting each other as they grow up, unless they get married. Moreover, parents think that marriage will protect their children from illicit relations.

Dr. Mona Al-Sawaf, a psychiatrist and counselor, believes such arguments do not justify child marriages. “Reaching puberty doesn’t mean maturity and awareness. … Parents are committing crimes when they marry their children off young,” she said.

Al-Sawaf said that marriage at an early age affects girls’ health. “Girls are made to marry strangers and at times forced into sexual relationships before their bodies are fully developed, which could result in death and illness that would last the rest of their lives,” she said.

“Likewise, boys would find themselves obliged to earn a living for their wives and children when most kids their age are at school,” she added.

One such woman is Munira, 28, who married at the age of 13. Now divorced after 16 years of marriage, Munira, who is from Jizan, works as a tea girl in a bank.

“Three of my sisters married at the age of 14…I was happy when I got married; I wanted to leave school and live a non-restricted life,” she said.

Another girl who married young is Wadha. “I saw my mother buying lots of gold and clothes. I didn’t know what it was all for. I didn’t know I was about to get married,” she said, adding she was only told that she was getting married a week before her marriage.

Lawyer Mohammed Al-Sale said, “It’s extremely difficult to gauge how many underage marriages take place. Many are undertaken unofficially and are only registered officially when the bride turns 17.”

Psychologist Dr. Madeha Al-Ajrosh said that early marriages result in girls not maturing intellectually. “Girls usually finish school when they marry and their priority shifts from being concerned about themselves to their husbands. They stop developing,” she said.

Even though marriages between youngsters are met with an eye of disapproval in some sections of society, there are many who agree with it.

“Evidence that marriages between young couples are doomed to fail does not exist,” said Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Askar, a marriage registrar and professor at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University.

“Marriage is a personal choice. In some cases, girls and boys become mature at the young age of 11,” he said.

He, however, added that there is a need to educate people about married life. “People intending to marry should undergo professional counseling to make them prepared. I think courts should obligate this. Prospective couples should have reached the age of puberty and have the approval of their parents,” she said.

Mohammed Al-Nugaimi said child marriages should not be allowed. “They should only get married when they reach the age of puberty. After that they should be given the right to choose whether they want to get married or not,” he said.

“A child of 15 is not old enough to handle married life these days,” he added.



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