A twelve year-old girl has won the divorce from her 80-year-old husband in a land mark case that may help Saudi Arabia introduce a minimum age of marriage. The girl, who lived near the capital Riyadh, was married to her father's elderly cousin last year, with a dowry of £14,500 paid and the marriage was consummated. She has now reached an agreement with her family however and the divorce will be settled privately rather than in the courts. Her unusual challenge has attracted world wide attention and thrust Saudi Arabia’s record of child marriages into the spotlight.
It has also triggered the state-run Human Rights Commission to hire a lawyer to represent her. The commission has used the case to press for a legal minimum age for marriage of at least 16. Three committees have been set up to look into the possibility of such an agreement, and the commission and the Ministry of Justice will put out new guidelines after hearing from medical experts, child psychologists and scholars of Islamic law. "The main aim is to not allow cases like this to happen again," said Alanoud al-Hejailan, a lawyer for the commission. "There will be some opposition, of course, but we feel that public opinion has changed on this issue, he told The Daily Telegraph. “We want to gather all the public support we can for a minimum age for marriage.”
Medical experts, child psychologists, social workers and scholars in Islamic law will debate the issue over the coming months before submitting their recommendations to a public hearing. Based on these findings, the commission and the Ministry of Justice will issue new guidelines and impose a legal minimum age for the first time. “The main aim is to not allow cases like this to happen again,” said Alanoud alHejailan, a lawyer for the commission. “There will be some opposition, of course, but we feel that public opinion has changed on this issue. We want to gather all the public support we can for a minimum age for marriage.”
Since the case was highlighted, judges and clerics in Saudi Arabia have entered into the debate about whether child marriages should be banned. Some groups have used the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a nine-year-old girl to justify the practice. Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission said that it is also looking to increase co-operation with international bodies on children’s rights and human trafficking.