A 12-year-old Saudi girl has won a divorce from her 80-year-old husband in a case that may help to introduce a minimum age of marriage in the kingdom for the first time.
The girl’s unusual legal challenge to the arrangement generated international media attention and scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s record of child marriages. It also prompted the state-run Human Rights Commission to appoint a lawyer to represent her. The commission has capitalized on the case and pushed for a legal minimum age for marriage of at least 16.
“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.”
Since the girl’s case became public, judges and clerics in Saudi Arabia have waded into the debate about whether child marriages should be banned. The Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old girl has been used as justification for the practice in some quarters.
In January, however, Sheikh Abdullah al-Manie, a senior Saudi cleric, spoke out in defense of the girl, declaring that the Prophet’s marriage 14 centuries ago could not be used to justify child brides today.
The 12-year-old has been fighting her case through the courts in the conservative town of Buraidah, near Riyadh, the capital. She was married against her wishes to her father’s elderly cousin last year. A dowry of 85,000 riyals (about $23,000) was paid and the marriage consummated.
She has now reached agreement with her family that a divorce will be settled privately, and has dropped her legal challenge to the marriage.