Manama: Police in Saudi Arabia are investigating the illegal marriage of a 12-year-old girl in a remote area in the south of the country.

The investigation was ordered by the court in Samita, 50 kilometres south of Jizan, near the border with Yemen, following a report that a school principal in the nearby village of Sahi discovered that a fourth grade student in her school was married.

The court said that the father and husband must be summoned by the police to explain how the marriage was arranged and give the name of the person who allowed it in a clear breach of the law, local news site Sabq reported on Wednesday.

“There are two clear violations of the law,” Ebrahim Al Hakami, a lawyer, said. “The girl at 12 is underage and whoever 'officiated' the marriage did not have the permission from the court to do it,” he said in remarks published by the news site.

All those involved in the illegal marriage should be punished, he added.

“From the legal point of view, this marriage is null and void. The father should be punished for marrying his underage daughter and thus treating her inhumanely. The husband should also be punished for accepting to get married to a 12-year-old girl and so should whoever 'officiated' the marriage for breaking the law,” Al Hakami said.

The police were alerted about the case after the principal noticed that the girl who was not named was not faring well and that she was having health issues. The school official eventually learned that the student, born to a Yemeni mother and a Saudi father, had been forced into a marriage by her father. The principal immediately referred her to the nearest hospital and alerted the police.

Saudi Arabia this year set 16 as the minimum age of marriage for girls as it introduced new regulations in a bid to curb child marriages mainly in the conservative areas of the vast kingdom where minors are often forced by their fathers to marry much older men mainly for financial reasons, Saudi newspapers said.

Lawyers and human rights activists have often been at loggerheads over a minimum marriage age with conservative scholars who believe that it violated Islamic law.

Most comments on the Sabq website about the young student’s marriage called for stiff action against the father and husband for their mental, psychological and emotional abuse of the child.

“There is a crucial need to educate families culturally and socially,” Citizen, a blogger, posted. “The heart of the problem lies at the ignorance of many families and at the outdated customs and traditions that are still upholding.”

Other bloggers blamed “greedy fathers” for the phenomenon, saying that they were not really interested in the well-being of their children.

Those who supported early marriages argued that its “advantages included preventing deviation in adolescence and having a fully functional family.”