Ali Al-Ahmed wrote in The Guardian newspaper two days ago ‘Why is no one protecting Saudi Arabia’s child brides?’ In the article he talks of the fact that in Saudi Arabia there is no legal minimum age limit for marriage. In fact often the younger the bride, the higher the bride price. In the case he highlights Atgaa, 10, and her sister Reemya, 8, are about to be married to men in their 60s. Atgaa will be her husband’s fourth wife. Girls as young as this can fetch up to $40,000 each.
In 1996 Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with a reservation ‘with respect to all such articles as are in conflict with the provisions of Islamic law’. They may as well not have signed the Convention as this proviso allows them e.g. to not set a minimum age limit on the imposition of the death penalty and certainly allows for young children to be married off at the age of eight or younger to the highest bidder. What rights contained within the convention are left?
Within the Convention the rights afforded to children are grouped into four man groups:
* Survival rights: these include the child’s right to life and the needs that are most basic to existence, such as nutrition, shelter, an adequate living standard, and access to medical services
* Development rights: which include the right to education, play, leisure, cultural activities, access to information, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
* Protection rights: ensure children are safeguarded against all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation, including special care for refugee children; safeguards for children in the criminal justice system; protection for children in employment; protection and rehabilitation for children who have suffered exploitation or abuse of any kind.
* Participation rights: encompass children’s freedom to express opinions, to have a say in matters affecting their own lives, to join associations and to assemble peacefully. As their abilities develop, children are to have increasing opportunities to participate in the activities of their society, in preparation for responsible adulthood.
Every one of these is breached by young girls being forced into marriage.
The good news is that at least one senior cleric in Saudi Arabia has come out vehemently against child marriage – and has dismissed the argument that since marriage to minors was acceptable for Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, it also is acceptable for Muslims in the 21st century. The Prophet’s marriage to Aysha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same”, Sheikh Abdullah al Manie said recently.
“It is a grave error to burden a child with responsibilities beyond her years, Marriage should be put off until the wife is of a mentally and physically mature age and can care for both herself and her family,” he said.
There are also many other Saudis opposed to the practice and I feel hopeful that with their opposition growing this cruel, inhuman and degrading practice will soon be outlawed.