Dad Sells Daughter to Buy New Car

Dad Sells Daughter to Buy New Car

If you were to ask me as a Saudi woman from one of the most conservative regions of Saudi Arabia, 'What is the one change that you would like to see?', there are many that come to mind: allowing women to drive cars, allowing women to enter government buildings, opening up more employment options to women and lifting the guardianship system under which every woman (no matter how old she is) has to have a male guardian everywhere she goes.

But when I get right down to it, there is one change that I would like to see happen yesterday: the criminalization of child marriages.

Hospital staff in a Saudi town were shocked last April when a 65-year-old Hepatitis B sufferer applied for a license to marry a healthy 11-year-old girl. In the absence of laws and regulations to prevent child marriages and prosecute those who take part, the staff had to rely on persuading the girl's parents to not go through with the marriage. Sadly, according to a report published in Al Riyadh (a local newspaper) they were unsuccessful.

Saudi activists have been pressuring the Ministry of Justice to issue a law against child marriages and prosecute those who allow their children to be raped under the pretensions of marriage for years.

On April 14, 2009, the Minister of Justice issued a statement to the press that a new system of bylaws would be implemented such that children would no longer be subjected to this abuse. It has been over a year, we are still waiting, and several child marriages have occurred during our wait.

Last month alone, three different cases of child marriage cropped up in the media. In the southern Saudi city of Najran, a 13-year-old girl was married off to a man in his 50s. Everyone in the family opposed the marriage, including the girl’s grandfather and uncle, but nothing could be done to stop it. According to a family member, the father allowed the marriage because he wanted to use his daughter's dowry money to buy himself a new car!

In another case, a sheikh, Saeed Al Jaleel, came out saying that a couple of years back he was asked to marry a 10-year-old girl to a 34-year-old man. He tried to stop the marriage, speaking to the girl’s mother to try to get her to object, and trying to convince the father not to go through with it. But both parents insisted and the sheikh's hands, he said, were tied. Without any regulations against it, he married them.

The third and final case in the media last month involves the story of a marriage official himself marrying a 12-year-old, then consummating their marriage two and a half months later. According to Arab News, this is what the newlywed had to say about his marriage: "I had to summon up the courage for two weeks before I was able to have sex with her,” he said. When he first saw the girl, the official said, he was shocked by her fragility and spent quite some time figuring out how to have sex 'with her'.

According to a Saudi social worker interviewed by Al Riyadh, she knows of three thousand cases in which the bride was 13-years-old and younger, while the husband was at the age of his bride's father or grandfather.

The recent media silence might be explained by reports from sources within the Ministry of Justice quoted in Al Watan, another local paper, that 40 cases of child marriage were prevented in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia by verbal instruction alone. Since the ministry finds child marriage embarrassing and saw fit to prevent these cases of wedlock pedophilia, why won't it just set a legal age for marriage?

The majority of Saudi citizens themselves support the criminalization of child marriage. A recent campaign by Sayidty Magazine explicitly condemned child marriages and was supported by members of the Saudi royal family, ministers, writers, artists, actors and even entire hospital administrations. But that outcry and a lot of international media attention on the issue only led to a space being put onto marriage certificates in which the age of the bride must be stated.

Stating the age of a bride is not the same as an outright and clear law completely banning child marriage, and each and every little girl subjected to this sanctioned form of pedophilia is a crime against humanity. Since media attention has caused the ministry of justice to issue verbal instructions to try hide the issue until we forget, let's show them that we won't forget!

Tell the Saudi minister of justice what you think of child marriages by using the Twitter hashtag #Saudichildbrides, and sign the petition below calling on the minister to set a legal age for marriage, so that we can prosecute parents and guardians who willingly give or sell their daughters to a pedophile.


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