Saudi Arabia Grand Mufti says no opposition to underage marriage

Justice ministry, rights activists push for setting minimum age

Gulf News

Manama: Saudi Arabia’s efforts to edge closer to setting a minimum age for marriage have received a blow after the Grand Mufti said there was nothing wrong with girls below 15 getting married.

“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh said, quoted by local daily Al Riyadh on Sunday.

In a bold attempt to force changes on the grounds, the justice ministry has been pushing for setting up the minimum age.

Two years ago, it submitted an integrated study on the negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages to religious scholars and requested a fatwa that sets a minimum age.

The study included medical, social and religious views as well as a set of recommendations, sources told the daily.

However, the scholars have not responded and the statement by the Grand Mufti seemed as a clear indication of the difficulties to impose a minimum age for marriages in the country.

Changes that the justice ministry wants to reinforce include mentioning the age of the bride and groom in the marriage contract to ensure there are no abuses and the bride is at least 15 years old.

The ministry said that only competent courts could endorse the marriage of a bride less than 15 years old after judges make certain that specific conditions are fulfilled.

One recommendation for the exceptional underage marriage is to ensure it is not consummated immediately and that the bride should be given sufficient time to prepare her psychologically and train her for family requirements, the sources said.

No underage marriage should be allowed until the bride’s father presents a report in which medical staff and social workers testify that the bride is not physically and mentally at risk, the sources added.

The drive to set the minimum age has been consolidated by human rights groups that have been pushing for setting a minimum age.

They recommended the consent of both the bride and her mother as a sine qua non condition to go ahead with the wedding plans and called on judges to make sure that the bride would not be harmed in any way by the marriage.

Exceptions should be kept to a strict minimum and should be confined to girls with no families and living in orphanages, they said.