Category Archives: Child marriages

Childhood Defined (for boys at least)

On January 18th, news came out that the Saudi Council has come out with a proposal to define childhood as from birth to the age of 18. And the discussion about age definition came about as a preclude to approve a new child protection system that includes protecting children from physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and prosecuting neglect. There was some back and forth about lowering it to 15 but eventually in a second meeting it was established that 18 is the decision for now at least.

Don’t get too excited though because I bet just like me, it occurred to you that hey that means no more child marriages. Unfortunately that turns out to be not the case, as they had decided that the issue of child marriages is too complex. I don’t know what to make of it so I’m just going to give you a word for word translation of how AlRiyadh Newspaper reported the child marriages discussion:

وفيما يتعلق بتزويج القاصرات واعتباره كنوع من أشكال الإساءة للأطفال والاعتداء على حقوقهم قال بكري ” الموضوع شائك ” وأضاف: تحديد سن الطفولة ب18 سنة يعتبر إشارة لحظر زواج الفتيات دون هذا السن،عدا أن هناك خلافا وجدلا واسعا حول تعريف أو تحديد من هي القاصر.

With regards to the marriage of minors and considering it as a form of child abuse and human rights violation, Bakri said “The issue is thorny” adding: “determining the age of childhood at 18 years is a reference to the prohibition of marriage for girls under this age, except that there is a dispute and wide discussion on the definition and designation of who is a minor”.

Confused? So am I. Bottom line child marriages is not included in the new child protection system. That means according to Saudi law marrying off an 11-year-old to a man in his fifties is not physical, psychological, and sexual abuse nor neglect. If you’re upset about this, the child marriages petition on Change.org is still standing and every signature goes directly to the Ministry of Justice.

There is some good news though. A group of Saudi women have started a hashtag on Twitter #Saudiwomenrevolution and there were some heated debates on there. There was also a group of men and women who tried to put down the whole cause, claiming that Saudi women are lucky and honored. Also that calling for women rights is a Western conspiracy to corrupt Muslim women. Another recurrent theme with the naysayers is accusations that anyone calling for women rights has to have come from an abused background, in other words, trying to shame women into quiet.

Meanwhile a group of Saudi women go out and do what the men are too afraid to do; a group of 40 women protested in front of the interior ministry last week to demand freedom or at least open and fair trials for their imprisoned relatives.

The group who started the #Saudiwomenrevolution have started a Facebook page and are trying to get organized with a proper list of demands. This is the link to their page.

Recommended reading:

Quiet Revolution: The Saudi, Female Brain Drain by the past editor of Saudi Gazette, Rob L. Wagner.

For those who claim that child marriages are Islamic or that the Prophet married Aisha when she was a child, I have two links for you:

الرسول تزوج عائشة وعمرها 19عاماً

And this one pointed out to me by Abdulmouhsen Al Madani:

Rejecting the Myth of Sanctioned Child Marriage in Islam

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Saudi Justice Ministry: Ban Child Brides!

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…Read on here

Tell the Saudi minister of justice what you think of child marriages by using the Twitter hashtag#Saudichildbrides, and  sign this petition 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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More child marriages

I’ve been wanting to write this post all day but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I wanted to write about how frustrated and sad I am, but what does it matter how I feel standing as a helpless onlooker, reading these horror stories about 10, 12 and 13 year olds being legally and openly married (read sold off) to men decades their seniors. I’ve gone through all the emotions and now I’m weary of the nightmare scenarios going through my head as I imagine what these poor children are going through. So let me just state the facts:

In Najran, a city in the south of Saudi a thirteen year old girl was married off to a man in his fifties. 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 went through with it because he wanted to use her dowry money for a new car.

In another case, a sheikh, Saeed Al Jaleel, has come 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. He spoke to the girl’s mother to try to get her to object, he tried to convince the father not to go through with it but they both insisted. His hands were tied since there are no regulations, and he married them.

And finally you have this story in Arab News:

NAJRAN: A marriage official (mazoun) in the southern city of Najran has told a local Arabic daily that he had married a minor girl who is barely 12 years old and consummated their marriage after only two and a half months….”When my mother insisted I consummate my marriage, I had to summon up the courage for two weeks before I was able to have sex with her,” he said. He said when he first saw her, he was shocked by her fragility and added that he spent a long time trying to understand how to treat her.”

Since reforms have started the only thing that has been implemented is that women can book into a hotel without a male guardian’s permission. A small step but now the time is ripe for criminalizing wedlock pedophilia. And don’t give me that line that the prophet PBUH married Aisha when she was 9 years old. That’s disputed and historians have shown that she was actually 19.

So many Saudis tired and upset about these stories, including members of the royal family. A huge campaign and petition organized by one of the biggest women magazines in the Middle East, Sayidaty, and signed by icons and leaders, all this and nothing to show for it.

Women are still considered legally minors no matter how old they are, banned from driving, and at the mercy of their guardians when it comes to education, work, marriage, divorce and child custody.

We need laws to instate our rights as human beings and protect our daughters from these horrors.

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Doll

Doll is a short film that premiered in Saudi Arabia last night. I was lucky enough to get a chance to not only see it but also to meet the director, Reem al Bayyat. It was first shown at the Gulf Film Festival in the UAE.  The movie is about six minutes long and is about child marriages in Saudi Arabia. The technique that Ms.Bayyat employed was particularly intriguing as all the shots were still but the film flipped through them like you would with the corner of a notebook to show a stickman cartoon. And yet the sound fitted perfectly. The final product had an eeriness too it that’s not easily forgotten.

Of course the topic, child marriages, is always good to bring up regardless of the medium. That’s the only way that we can address thought processes that advocate child marriages. And last night was no exception. After the movie, the audience was allowed to ask the director questions. Some questioned, and some remarked, but what was most interesting was a question posed by a young well-dressed man who was Arab but I’m not sure which nationality as he spoke in clear English. He asked the director  why is it considered such a big deal while in the West it’s ok for a 13 or 16 year old girl to have a boyfriend, such a question not from a bearded muttawa or an illiterate old man, but from this guy. Ms. Al Bayyat handled it beautifully. She said that whether a girl has a boyfriend or not is a cultural issue but what she is addressing is the responsibility, pregnancy, servitude that is part and package of child marriages and the issue of legal pedophilia, when a much older man is allowed to rape a child under the pretense of marriage. Pedophilia exists everywhere but only here is it legal. The man who posed the question did not argue the issue further but another woman did remark that the laws will not change because many decision makers still believe that there is nothing wrong with legally giving a fifty year old pedophile an 11 year old “bride”.

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No way out

An 18 year old Saudi girl on May 24th shot herself with her 50ish husband’s rifle only a week after the nuptials. She left a note asking her family to forgive her and to pray for her. She also requested that her mother be the one to prepare her body for burial. According to the family, she had agreed to the marriage but had shown signs of depression the weeks leading up to the wedding and the first few days after marriage.

I thought about not writing about her but then I remembered what one social worker told AlRiyadh Newspaper that she knows of 3,000 child-bride marriages to much older men just in the past year. If an 18 year old would rather die, can you imagine how those 11 and 13 year olds feel?

I can pretty much guess the tactics that the family used to get acquiescence. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. One girl I know when she refused a suitor that her family liked, they ground her while her mother nagged her about it and her teen brother refused to eat or drink until she agreed to marry the suitor. This was a girl fresh out of high school.  Although the groom was in his twenties, the girl was obviously not ready. While they were dressing her for the wedding, she told everyone that she will be single within a week. Surely enough a week later she came home and locked herself in her room until her husband divorced her. Unfortunately she had gotten pregnant and their child was raised by parents that should never have been.

Depression and suicide are a sad reality no matter where you live and whatever your background. However they should not be caused by being deprived of choice. Pressuring young women to get married might be a lesser evil than child marriages but it is an evil nevertheless.

Sources:

Alriyadh newspaper

Okaz Newspaper

Qathaya Al Mujtima Newspaper

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Why my heart hurts and my stomach is turned

In Riyadh Newspaper today there was a report on a 65 year old man who suffers from Hepatitis B applying for a marriage health certificate to marry an eleven year old girl. The staff at the hospital were shocked not only by the shamelessness of the man but also of the eagerness of the girl’s parents to finish up the paperwork so they can go ahead with the wedding. So they are knowingly subjecting their daughter to not only a pedophile but also a disease.

Some of the hospital staff apparently strongly disagree with the procedure and want to prevent the marriage but they have no power to. Marriage licenses are  granted to hepatitis sufferers only after the healthy partner is aware and agrees but how can you expect adult consent and awareness from an 11 year old?!

If only there was a law that would put an end to this once and for all.

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Yet another child bride

A twelve year old girl was sold to an 80 year old man by her father under the pretext of marriage. Her price, about $22,600 was paid. And it

turns out that the groom did not seek out the girl but actually her own father offered and insisted that the old geezer take her. The father said to an AlRiyadh Newspaper reporter that he had made his decision based on the development of the girl’s body and not her age. Her mother objected strongly but was unable to stop the marriage. The 80 year old newlywed claims that he tried to take the high road and invite his mother-in-law to the wedding but she would only scream obscenities at him. And the audacity of the mathoon (muttawa who married them off) to say that he thought the girl was 13 and a half years old, as if that would make a difference. The arrangement is that the girl stays at her father’s house on weekdays to attend school and on weekends her “husband” takes her to his place in the desert. When the reporter tried to interview the girl over the phone, the only responses he could get to his questions was sobbing and “I don’t know”. Finally the little girl screamed over the phone “I don’t want him, save me.”

Just like the other two cases I’ve written about before, here and here, the girl’s parents are divorced. And again like the other two cases, the mother is the one who pulled all the stops to get media attention on the daughter’s plight. I’m sure there are many cases similar to these three all across Saudi Arabia. What makes these three different are the educated and determined mothers who are doing everything in their power to save their daughters.

Why the government won’t just set an age for marriage is beyond me. The Prophet (PBUH) marrying 9 year old Ayisha argument has been hashed and rehashed so many times. No one really knows how old she was when she married; moreover she stayed betrothed for several years before actually moving in with the prophet (PBUH). Many claim that the emphasis on her young age was to highlight that she was the only virgin bride of the prophet (PBUH) rather than a child bride. And times and life spans have changed, back then at forty a person was old and now most people live to over eighty.

Without a law we get people like this 80 year old guy who takes advantage of the system to fulfill his sick obsession with little girls. Where else in the world can a man openly say that he is in a polygamous marriage with four underage girls and not get arrested? At this rate we might as well start a tourism industry to attract rich Muslim pedophiles.

One comment I read on the cartoon above really stood out for me; a guy wrote to the cartoonist “just be thankful you’re a guy”.

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“My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”

In August a campaign was launched titled “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”. The aim of the campaign is to stand against women who are demanding to be treated as adults. Yes you read it right, a campaign that demands that the status qou remains as is. The campaign is headed by two  princesses and has two rivaling websites. And since it has gotten a lot of attention and some rumors that the two princesses were fighting over whose idea it was, the “Who are we” page has been taken down on one of them. The goal of the campaign is to gather one million signatures from Saudi women who support it. On the bottom of the main page of the weaker website is a button that says click to vote and when you click it, it automatically counts as a vote of support! The other website’s button actually asks for specifics like name and city. The stronger website is here and the weaker one here.

Below I’ve translated Dr. Elham Manea’s piece on the how and why of this campaign: 

I swear I almost smiled, but how could I smile?
Then I said to myself, that people are people, in their wisdom or weakness, here or there, no difference.
So I contemplated rather than smile.

Some Saudi women have decided to express themselves.
They wanted to take a stand against human rights activists calling for Saudi Arabia to give women some (not all) of the rights that are enjoyed by their Arab counterparts in neighboring countries. So they came out with a new campaign titled “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me”.  
Do we blame them? All they wanted was to fix a problem they know nothing of, and thus made it worse.  It would be strange to expect anything else from them. You cannot miss what you’ve never had.

Most of them belong to the Saudi aristocrats. Their leader is a princess. Their hands are velvet. They live in palaces and villas. How could we blame them for not knowing the reality of average Saudi women?

These campaigner are only worried about Saudi women. They are protecting women from themselves.They are protecting us from activists, activists who have lived the reality of being a Saudi woman in the East, West, North and South of Saudi Arabia. They know how we suffer, and how we are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Luckily, these activists are not princesses.

These activists believe we should be treated as adults and humans and not as children and minors, and not as digraces to be covered. Activists who are tired of this reality of suffering and daily humiliation and so they call for the guardian system to be absolved.

These campaigners who stand againsts activists see nothing strange in the fact that we are the only Muslim country that bans women driving. Isn’t it funny that Saudi Arabia is unique in this odd religious aspect? But it has always been so. They don’t wonder as to how a woman’s freedom in our country has been choked and strangled a thousand times over,so that the poor soul cannot make a move without a male’s permission, a male who’s only distinction is his genitals. To the degree that we see nothing weird about a twenty year old being reprimanded by her ten year old brother.

My guardian knows what’s best for me, seriously?!

They do not see anything strange in that the women of their country cannot make the smallest move without their guardian’s permission. They have no right to leave their houses, to study, to go to a clinic…without their guardian’s permission. And the guardian is a woman’s father, brother or any related male until she marries. And then her guardian becomes her husband until either one of them dies. Her guardian may marry her off at ten, hit her, abuse her or may be kind to her, it’s all up to luck. Her life like a watermelon, it might open up to be red and sweet or bitter and rotten.

These campaigners live like princesses and the restrictions that stifle average women daily, do not apply to them. Have they ever faced a PVPV  commission member who stole their very breath. If a PVPV commission member even set his eyes on them, he would shake from fear, because the only power that the PVPV recognize is the power of your guardian. These men know nothing of religion.

My guardian knows what’s best for me, seriously?!

They never wonder and they never question. Instead in a naiveness that is to be envied, naiveness reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, they are bothered by the demands of the women who have suffered. And so they send to the king, asking him that this system of injustice be maintained.

They say “Who said we need to be human?”
“We do not want rights that contradict our customs!”

“Stop their demands!”

“Cut their tongues!”

“Silence their voices!”

“Leave us as we are!”

“An object in a degree closer to the animal! (With all due respect to animals)”

And surprisingly, I am not surprised. Not surprised by the campaign.
And you know why?
Because the history of  movements demanding women’s rights throughout the world, was full of similar campaigns to this “My guardian knows what’s best for me”. For every woman who demanded her rights, stood more women who cursed her, in the name of tradition, in the name of customs, in the name of religion (whatever that religion may be), and shamed her for seeking change.
This campaign is not strange.
It is similar to another campaign carried out by women in Switzerland in the twenties and then again in the fifties and sixties against women’s right to vote. They too used religion, customs and traditions as an excuse to stop development.

Even in this, they are not unique.
People, as I said before are people,in their wisdom, and strength and in their weakness and simplicity.
Here or there. No difference.

But my guardian does not know what’s best for me.
I am worthy of making my own decisions.
And only I know what’s best for me, even as I bow my head in respect to my father.  

Those campaigners insist on staying minors.
That is their decision. But who said that they speak on behalf of Saudi women?

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Another child bride

There is nothing that gets the Saudi government to act like shining the western media spotlight on it. Once the spotlight dims, things usually go back to the way they were. A while back there was all this attention about who I call the child bride of Onaiza, and accordingly the marriage never took place and a huge discussion of plans for laws regulating marital age for both girls and boys were thrown around. Shiekhs were consulted, government officials made statements and proposals. Once the topic stopped coming up abroad, things pretty much went back to where they were. That’s why it would be fantastic if the international media picked up the story published today in Arab News about a 10 year old girl being handed over to an 80 year old man by none other than her own father. She ran away and sought refuge at her aunt’s house but her father managed to take her back to her husband. The 80 year old claims that he originally asked for her older sister but she refused so the father offered the poor 10 year old instead and the geezer took him up on it.

Maybe media attention so soon within this short span of time could be just what we need to firmly set up laws to protect these girls.  

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The child bride of Onaiza

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.

Clarification:

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.

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