8 year old marriage in Saudi Arabia, 8 year old denied divorce, divorcees in Saudi Arabia
Associated Press

Saudi Judge Says Girl Must Wait Until Puberty to Get Divorced

December 22, 2008 02:58 PM
by Anne Szustek
An eight-year-old Saudi girl betrothed to a man 50 years her elder has not been granted a divorce on the grounds that she has not reached puberty.

Divorce Plea of Girl with Dowry Betrothed to Middle-Aged Man Rejected

An eight-year-old girl in Saudi Arabia was essentially sold off by her father to a 58-year-old man for a dowry of 30,000 riyals (about $8,000).

The father of the girl, whose parents are divorced, apparently was having financial trouble. But the child’s mother had a different perspective on the situation and filed divorce proceedings on her daughter’s behalf in a court in Unayzah, a town some 135 miles to the north of Saudi capital Riyadh.

The judge in the case dismissed the plea Saturday, ruling preliminarily that the mother does not have the right to petition for her daughter’s divorce, and that the child will not be old enough to file for divorce herself until she reaches puberty.

Abdullah Jtili, a lawyer working on the case, told Agence France-Presse that the girl “doesn’t know yet that she has been married.”

The court has delayed issuing an outright verdict until February. In the meantime, the girl is to continue living with her mother. Jtili plans to appeal the case to the Saudi court of cassation.

However, the girl’s father and husband both remain in support of the marriage. The 58-year-old man has refused to divorce the girl, based on his argument that it was a legal marriage, as well as that the marriage has not yet been consummated. According to conditions set by the girl’s father, the marriage cannot be consummated until some 10 years after the marriage was agreed upon, when she will be 18 years old.

Analysis: Rights of Saudi divorcees coming to the forefront

In November, more than 100 women convened in the Saudi city of Dammam for the Saudi Divorce Initiative Forum, a privately run convention to discuss the societal bias faced by Saudi women who have divorced.

“The goal here is not to prosecute men—this is not a women’s demonstration for their pain,” women’s rights activist Thurayya al-Arayyedh was quoted as saying by Saudi paper Arab News. “This is a step toward a fair system for all sides in a divorce—men, women and children.”

The meeting developed more than 70 proposals to be delivered to the Saudi government to better enforce the legal rights of Saudi divorcees. Among them: both the husband and wife receive copies of marriage contracts, rather than just the man; that divorced women be termed in government filings as “single,” rather than “divorced”; and that DNA tests be held up as evidence in paternity suits.

According to statistics printed in Arab News, the Saudi rate of divorce is reaching 60 percent, yet women are often incognizant of their post-marital rights. Moody al-Zahrani, the supervisor of Saudi Arabia’s Social Protection Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, told the paper, “Society’s view of the divorced woman is more difficult for some than the actual violence…What also stops her is that she can’t support herself, financially or emotionally, and she isn’t personally able to leave her husband.”

In some courts, judges will not listen to a woman’s divorce plea if she is not with a male relative. Plus, judgments rendered against ex-husbands are often not enforced, contrary to tenets outlined under sharia law.

Background: Sharia law and its role in Saudi Arabia

Sharia, which can be translated as “the way” in Arabic, is the Islamic legal system delineated in the Islamic holy texts, including the Quran and the hadith.

Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God, while the Hadith, the ways of the prophet, provides the finer details of much of Islamic law, and is used by Muslims to interpret the Quran. It consists of thousands of descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s daily life. As is common among religious texts, both texts have been subjected to varying levels of interpretation; this is reflected in how sharia is applied in Muslim countries.

In Saudi Arabia, sharia is effectively the national constitution and covers all facets of daily life—from family affairs to banking—as well as celebration of holidays, some Saudi religious scholars argue.

In a BBC online guide to religion, British Muslim Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood offers his interpretation of sharia and what it means to him. “The whole principle of God’s will is to bring about compassion, kindness, generosity, justice, fair play, tolerance, and care in general, as opposed to tyranny, cruelty, selfishness, exploitation etc.,” he writes. Maqsood goes on to defend the Islamic legal code: “The usual criticisms of Sharia—that it is so cruel as regards execution, flogging and cutting off hands—totally ignore all the extenuating circumstances that would lead to these penalties not being applied,” he continues. “They are known as hadd penalties (pl. hudud), the extreme limit of the penalty. Thus, if a person was sentenced to having a hand cut off, he or she should not be sent to prison and/or be fined as well.”

Related Topics: Saudi religious views on women’s rights

Ruwaida al-Habis, 20, learned to drive on her family’s farm from her father, Hamad. So when he and her two brothers were seriously burned in a fire, Ruwaida did not think twice about breaking Saudi Arabia’s law forbidding women to drive.

Saudi law forbids women from driving on the grounds that it would allow unrelated members of the opposite sex to mix.

In February, Sheik Abdul Mohsen al-Obaikan issued an edict saying that “in principle, women driving is permitted in Islam.” This marked a positive step in a decades-old movement for sexual equality on the road in Saudi Arabia.

A women’s amateur basketball league has also helped to make inroads in terms of women’s health. The Jaguars and Jeddah United, in the Saudi seaport town of Jeddah, shed their all-enveloping abayas for jerseys to duke it out on the basketball court. Some clerics interpret Islamic holy texts to such a degree of severity that they can find scriptural justification for banning exercise, so sports events must remain largely underground affairs.

Women who go on “power walks” face harassment from the “mutawwa,” or religious police. A booklet left at a weight-control clinic suggested that physical education classes for girls would require them to take off their clothes outside of the home—already considered offensive—and change in front of one another, possibly invoking forbidden homosexual feelings.

On top of the socio-religious pressures, rising incomes in this emerging market nation have led to increasing reliance on fast food. Some two-thirds of Saudi women are obese.

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