This story has drawn a lot of press. The girl is from Onaiza which is a part of Qaseem, a central region north of Riyadh. It’s the same place that produced Sheikh Bin Othaimeen and it’s most known for how fanatic and social the people there are about religion. And how the women of families there dress and live is the expression of the whole family’s piousness and honour. Just to give you a flavor of how people think of women over there, I’ll tell you a couple of incidents that I’ve come across when visiting. A relative of mine has a daughter who when she was around ten became quite good with rollerblading and would skate in their tiled big yard all day. Once my relative while watching her daughter skating, it occurred to her that the daughter might fall and seriously injure herself. So out of concern for her daughter’s wellbeing, she deprived the girl of her favourite activity. That sounds bad but what was truly crazy was the injury the mother was worried about was not broken bones but rather that the girl might have a freakish accident and lose her hymen.
Another incident was one time when I was visiting for a holiday, an occasion came up for which I had nothing to wear. So I thought I might pick up something from the local stores. My sister in law came with me and we dressed appropriately with the tent style abayas and covered faces. Unfortunately when we got to the mall, a muttawa found fault in that I had neglected to wear thick black socks over my ankles and would not let us shop. He followed us from shop to shop yelling how we should fear God until we went home empty-handed.
So to say that that part of Saudi Arabia is not the norm is a very happy conclusion. To get back to the girl, her case is not uncommon when parents divorce and the father takes custody. Many financially strapped fathers in this case neglect their daughters’ schooling or even pull them out of school and marry then off as soon as they can. But usually that’s around when the girls are 15. All just to spite the ex-wife. But what makes this girl stand out is her brave mother who would not take it. I am not sad that this happened to this particular girl because I know with all the publicity and support behind the mother it is highly unlikely that the 50ish groom will ever get to lay a hand on the girl. All across the Saudi media, there has been an outcry condemning him. I’ve read many calls by average Saudis for his name and photo to be published so they can shame him. Others suggest that the man’s own daughters should be forcefully married off at eight and see how he likes it.
The judge presiding over the case is not all that popular either. In court he stated that it is in the interest of the girl’s welfare that he would not annul the marriage and everyone is wondering what that means. In what way would it be in the interest of the child to stay married to her father’s friend? Just like in the Qatif girl’s case when the judge said that there are particulars concerning the rape victim that only the court knew about, the judge in the child bride case is hiding behind vague statements. Average Saudis have started to question this ambiguity in courts and demand more transparency.
This whole case will through example affect many mothers who will be able to gain strength in speaking out against this happening to their daughters.
For those of you who have not bothered to read the news article linked at the beginning of this post, the girl is NOT with her 50 year old husband and the judge has ordered that she remain with her family until puberty. Then she will be granted the right to choose between remaining married and moving in with her husband or asking for a divorce. The mother and uncle are currently appealing this verdict because they want an immediate anullment.