Saudi Court Refuses to Block Marriage of Girl, 8, to Older Man


ADVERTISEMENTOutraged human rights groups are calling the decision by a Saudi court to — not once, but twice — refuse to void the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a man several years her senior a form of human trafficking.

On Saturday, for the second time since December, a court in the Saudi town of Unaiza upheld the marriage of the Saudi girl to the much older man, on the condition that he does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty, Reuters reported.

Organizations like UNICEF were troubled by the ruling, calling it an abuse of the child’s rights.

“UNICEF is deeply concerned by reports that Saudi Arabian tribunals have decided not to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl,” the U.N. children’s agency said in a statement on its Web site. “Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child’s rights.”

“This particular girl was sold, literally,” Dr. Ali Alyami, founder and director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, told “This is pure human trafficking. The girl’s father was in need of money and he sold her.”

Financial problems prompt some Saudi families to marry off their underage daughters to much older men — a practice the kingdom’s chief cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdelaziz Al al-Sheikh endorses. Media reports claim that the 8 year-old girl’s father arranged the marriage in exchange to clear his debts with the man.

The ruling reportedly prompted Saudi Justice Minister Mohamed al-Issa to call for regulations on such marriages with the goal of ending “arbitrariness by parents and guardians in marrying off minor girls,” an announcement seen as jargon used to satisfy opponents.

“This is rubbish, they’ve been saying this for a long time,” said Alyami. “It’s just to silence their critics. They will pass something just to calm the situation down. There will be no drastic changes to the system.”

Alyami said the ruling further contributes to a “very nasty” environment for women in Saudi Arabia due to “oppression and condemnation” solely based on their gender.

“It’s a sad moment for women’s rights and particularly of young girls in Saudi Arabia. It’s a gross and huge violation of human rights,” added Ibrahim AlMugaiteeb, president and founder of the Human Rights First Society.

“The judge’s refusal to nullify the marriage means that every young girl whose father is bankrupt or in debt can sell their girls just because he’s getting the right price,” AlMugaiteeb continued.

Alyami, meanwhile, called on U.S. officials to intervene.

“First and foremost, our government should condemn this,” he said. “President Obama should lead the way.”

Officials from the U.S. State Department said they had no immediate comment but planned to release a statement later Tuesday.

Click here to read more on this story from Reuters.’s Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report

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