Saudi working on child marriage curbs: rights chief

Posted at 06/28/09 9:04 PM

RIYADH - The Saudi government is working on new regulations to impose a minimum age for marrying to prevent child weddings, the head of the official Human Rights Commission said on Sunday.

"Although they are very limited, we are worried about cases of children being married," the commission's president Bandar al-Aiban told AFP in an interview.

"This is under serious review... we are discussing what is the appropriate age for marriage," he said, adding that the minimum age in the new regulations could range from 16 to 18 years old.

Saudi Arabia has come under attack for permitting pre-teen and prepubescent girls to be married off by their parents.

In a case that stirred an international outcry late last year, an eight-year-old Saudi girl was sold into marriage with a man in his 50s by her father in exchange for dowry money.

The girl's mother challenged the marriage in court but it was upheld twice by a judge.

However in April, the parties agreed to a divorce in an out-of-court settlement, under heavy public pressure and what newspapers described as intervention by an unidentified "important personality."

Aiban said the problem is that under Islamic sharia law, the foundation of the Saudi justice system has no prohibition on child marriage and new regulations have to be crafted in harmony with sharia principles.

He said government bodies, rights groups and others are involved in the discussions to shape the new regulations, with some advocating a minimum age of 18 while others want a minimum of 16 or 17. One person proposed 15, he added.