Court grants 12-year-old bride divorce

JEDDAH: In an unprecedented twist, a court in Buraidah recently granted a 12-year-old Saudi girl a divorce from her 80-year-old husband.

According to reports, the girl was married against her will to her father’s cousin for a dowry of SR85,000.

Like many other cases involving child brides, this case also sparked debate in the Kingdom as well as attracting international media concern.

The girl and her mother, who is separated from the girl’s father, took the case to court seeking a divorce for the girl. The case prompted the governmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) to appoint a lawyer to assist the child bride.

An unexpected twist occurred, according to a source within the HRC, when the case was dropped by the girl’s mother in February when the girl failed to appear at a court hearing. Her failure surprised the HRC committee which had been formed to investigate the case.

The source also alleged in a previous interview with Arab News that the girl, her mother, and her mother’s lawyer had come to court and withdrawn the request for divorce. Other reports said that the mother had reconciled with the girl’s father, who had married her off and this is what led to the sudden dismissal of the case. There has been no independent confirmation of any of these developments.

Arab News spoke to Dr. Bandar Al-Iban, president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), who said, “The case was dropped by the girl when she appeared in court in front of the judge, lawyers, and media along with her mother and legal representative to say that she didn’t have a case and that she wanted to get married and since there was no law prohibiting it, she believes that the HRC should not be involved and therefore the case should be dismissed,” he said, adding that everyone was shocked by the girl’s statement.

Al-Iban, commenting on the recent granting of divorce, said that the HRC had no information about how the divorce came about. “We don’t know how the girl and her husband were divorced as it was all done very quietly,” he said.

Less than a year ago, an eight-year-old Saudi girl from Onaizah won an annulment of marriage from her 58-year-old husband after receiving assistance from Qassim Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar and after she promised to return the SR 8,000 dowry her husband had given to her father.

Underage girls married to older men have been in the international news media recently. Barely two weeks ago, Elham Mahdi, a 12-year-old Yemeni girl, reportedly died of internal bleeding three days after marrying an older man.

“Her death is a painful reminder of the risks girls face when they are married too soon,” said Sigrid Kaag, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

In many cases, the girls are married off to older men to settle the father’s “debt” and so that the girl will no longer be seen as a financial or moral burden on her family. In some cases, there are agreements made between the bride’s family and the groom to wait until she is older before consummation of marriage but this is not always the case.

A minimum age for girls to marry is still being debated in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The HRC and the Shoura Council have said openly said that they are working on a law setting a legal minimum age for marriage.

“We are still working to create a law setting a minimum age for marriage in Saudi Arabia,” Al Aiban told Arab News. “But it is very challenging as we are often dealing with conservative cultural bodies who do not believe that child marriage is a problem,” he added.

Source: Arab News

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