Urgent Alert: Saudi Arabia: Urgent Call for Annulment of Marriage of 10-Year-Old Girl

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1 Jun 2009

Amneh Mohamed Sharahili, a 10-year-old Saudi schoolgirl, has been married off by her father to a 25-year-old Saudi man. Although Amneh’s marriage contract was executed in mid-February 2009, she has not yet been handed over to her husband and continues to live with her parents. Her father intends to hand her over in July 2009. Amneh, who is eager to continue school and eventually become a teacher, does not quite comprehend what it means to be married. However, she now feels different from her classmates saying “while they will become teachers and doctors, I do not know what my fate and future will be other than being married since I was 10 years old.” The marriage will, among other things, deprive Amneh of an education and severely jeopardize her right to mental and physical well-being.

Amneh’s case is one of many such early marriages of girls in Saudi Arabia highlighted by Saudi human rights activists. Another recent highly publicized case was that of an eight-year-old girl from Onaiza who had been married by her father to a middle aged man to settle a debt. The mother of the girl went to court to petition for a divorce but was told that she had no legal standing. The case went through the Saudi courts, but the Saudi legal system, which does not have codified law but rather is based on individual judges applying their interpretations of shariah, failed to produce a just outcome and ultimately the husband had to be prevailed upon to grant the eight year old a divorce. While the Saudi Minister of Justice has condemned early marriages, the only effective solution to this issue would be an edict from the Saudi King prohibiting such marriages.

Studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Population Council show that early marriage has physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications on children. Child marriage violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse. It may mark an abrupt initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is considerably older and a relative stranger. Premature pregnancy carries significant health risks and pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years. Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to education. In addition, married girls have few social connections, restricted mobility, limited control over resources, and little power in their new households, and studies by UNICEF have found domestic violence to be common in child marriages.

Saudi Arabia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 1 of the CRC defines the child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years.” Article 16(2) of CEDAW states that the “betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.” Article 16(1)(b) of CEDAW also stipulates that women shall have the same right as men “freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent.” However, Saudi Arabia has neither defined a minimum age of marriage nor taken other steps to eliminate early and/or forced marriages. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia’s commonly accepted practice of male guardianship over women is directly contradictory to international human rights standards. In Saudi Arabia, a woman is considered to be under the guardianship of her father or closest blood-related male all her life. This severely limits her ability to make decisions relating to issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, and the choice of residency, education and employment.


What You Can Do: 

Please write to the King of Saudi Arabia asking him to issue an edict establishing a minimum age of marriage and banning all child marriages. Call upon him to take urgent action to annul the marriage of Amneh and all other child brides whose marriage contracts have been executed, but who have yet to be handed over to their husbands. Also ask him to ensure that child brides already living with their husbands are given a real choice to annul their marriages and, if they opt for annulment, to ensure that this happens swiftly without negative repercussions on the girls. Please also urge the King to support the establishment of a codified personal status law to guarantee the rights of women in marriage and divorce, ensuring that such law is based upon principles of equality and non-discrimination. Please send a similar letter to the Minister of Justice. Letters should go to:

His Majesty, King Abdullah bin Abdul
Aziz Al Saud
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 491 2726

His Excellency Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul
El Karim AbdulAzziz El Issa
Minister of Justice
University Street, Riyadh 11137
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 401 1741

With a copy to:

The Human Rights Commission
P.O. Box 58889 Riyadh 11515
King Fahed Street
Building 373
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Email: hrc@haq-ksa.org

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