Unlike the UK, there is no minimum legal age for marriage in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Government recently provided legal assistance to a 12-year-old girl seeking to divorce her father’s 80-year-old cousin, to whom she was married last year against her wishes.
Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission paid for a lawyer to represent the girl at court in Buraidah near Riyadh. The girl and her lawyer were successful and she won the right to end the marriage.
Reports from the region claimed that the marriage was consummated and that there was a dowry involved of 85,000 riyals (approximately £14,500). The girl’s mother petitioned for divorce on behalf of her daughter, but later inexplicably withdrew her claim.
The case was well publicised in Saudi Arabia, and views on its merits have been divided. Some clerics and judges defended the marriage, citing that the Prophet Muhammad married a girl of nine years old. Others said that the girl’s rights took priority on the basis that the Prophet’s marriage 1,400 years ago could not be used to justify modern child marriages.
Since the case was heard, the girl has reached agreement with her family to drop the legal challenge to her marriage and to settle the divorce privately.
There are now proposals under discussion in Saudi Arabia to establish a minimum legal marriageable age of 16 years old. The lawyer who represented the girl in this case has said that the main objective now is to establish the minimum age so as to avoid similar situations arising in the future.
In England and Wales, the minimum marriageable age is 16, although 16- and 17-year-olds can only get married with parental consent. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act gives the courts the right to prevent a forced marriage occurring and to stop attempts by a person to coerce another person into a marriage. Where the marriage has already taken place, the court is able to make an order to protect the victim if necessary.
If you or someone you know is the victim of a forced marriage or is being coerced into a marriage against their will, contact us for advice.