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A law full of loopholes
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 14 - 03 - 2013

Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen
Five years after Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Isa had stated that his ministry would issue regulations to prevent underage marriages, the ministry has finally come out with the law. The minister's statement came in the wake of the refusal of a court to nullify the marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a man who was 50 years her senior.
By fixing 16 as the minimum age for marriage, the new law has in effect approved underage marriages. It also gave the guardian the right to appeal to courts to exempt a girl under 16 years of age if he can present a medical report from a committee comprising a female gynecologist, a psychiatrist and a social worker to prove that his daughter has matured physically and mentally and that marriage will not be hazardous to her.
The regulations recommend that the guardian not rush in marrying off a girl after engagement but to give her enough time to prepare for the marital life.
When we carefully read these regulations, we can deduce the following:
The ministry has set 16 years as the legal age in which a girl can marry, although it is widely known that at this age she will not be able to bear the burdens and responsibilities of marriage, including pregnancy.
A woman will hardly be fully mature before she is 18 years old. This is the age of consent approved by the Shoura Council and the law of citizenship.
The marriage age should be compliant with the definition of “child” in the child protection agreement, which the Kingdom has endorsed. The agreement considers anyone who is not 18 years old as a child.
The law does not specify the minimum age when the guardian can ask for the exemption of a girl under his custody.
It does not make it mandatory on the prospective groom to allow his young wife to complete her education. This is against Islam, which has made education a duty on all Muslim men and women.
It gives the guardian the right to bring a medical report ascertaining the physiological, psychological and social readiness of an underage girl under his custody for marriage. This is giving him a carte blanche to bring a forged report to facilitate the marriage of his child.
The law does not include any controls on verifying the identity of the mother or her daughter when asking their consent for marriage.
The law ignores the maximum age difference between the couple. However, most underage marriages in the Kingdom were between young girls under 18 and men over 50.
According to medical reports, when a young woman reaches maturity she may become vulnerable and commit adultery if her elderly husband is too feeble to satisfy her sexual desires. She may also kill her aging husband, commit suicide or become psychologically ill and depressed.
The law does not give the girl the right to keep her dowry for herself so that the guardian will not seize it in order to settle his debts or meet his other needs. In most underage marriages, the guardians had used the dowry to pay off their debts.
The law does not specify punitive measures against the guardian if he did not abide by its provisions. It does not specify punishments against marriage officials who solemnize underage marriages except stating that they will face questioning.
Finally, the law does not identify any enforcement authority and therefore will not be effective in putting an end to underage marriages.

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