Manama: Senior Saudi pilgrimage officials are looking to ban children under 10 as a precautionary measure to protect them from the scorching summer heat.
According to the proposal, children under the age of 10 will not be allowed to accompany their parents as they perform the Islamic ritual required of all adult Muslims at least once in their lives.
Officials at the Haj ministry said that children would face huge problems dealing with the high temperatures that reach 44 degrees in the summer months, local daily Al Watan reported.
Pilgrimage was held this year in October, but with the Islamic calendar based on lunar months, the annual event will gradually be marked in the summer with soaring temperatures in the region. The Islamic calendar is made up of 354 days, 11 days short of the Gregorian year.
The call to impose the ban was triggered by ministry reports that thousands of children were seen with their parents in the areas where around three million Muslim men and women congregate for the Haj.
The reports said that most of the children were accompanying parents or family members who did not have regular tents and slept on the roadsides.
Around 65 per cent of the children were under the age of six and 20 per cent were aged less, the reports added.
The reports estimate the number of children who were at the Haj to be between 5,000 and 7,000.
Several children had to be given medical treatment for problems caused by the high temperatures and the large crowds. Parents and families were blamed for their lack of awareness in protecting the children.
The sources quoted by the daily said the talks to impose the ban have not reached the point of becoming a binding decision.
“When the talks reach an advanced stage, the proposal to impose the ban will be referred to the high scholars’ commission for its views,” the sources said, quoted by the daily. “The decision will be naturally based on the need to protect lives, a highly significant tenet in Islam.”
The major divergence in the talks is reportedly whether the ban should be confined to the families that do not have proper accommodation in the pilgrimage areas. While some support the view, others insist on a blanket ban on all children under the age of ten.
According to an official familiar with Haj, most of the families who brought their children this year were from Britain.
“The numbers are very limited, and some families bring their children with them because there is no one to look after them back home,” Tariq Anqawi, the head of Mutawafs (Guides) of pilgrims from Turkey, Europe and Australia, said. “Large tents were set up just to look after the children of the pilgrims and make sure they are not exposed to overcrowding situations,” he said.