Saudi Arabia’s religious leader, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Asheikh, has said that he does not plan to restrict the minimum age for marriage for women to 15 years, contravening a recent proposal from the country’s Ministry of Justice.
In an interview with the Al Riyadh, reported by the Saudi Gazette, the Grand Mufti described the marriage of girls below that age as “permissible”.
The issue is a controversial one both inside and outside Saudi Arabia, where the Ministry of Justice two years ago submitted a proposal to limit the marriage age of women to 15 years old. In 2011, the kingdom’s Shoura Council was also reported to recommend the introduction of an age limit, but nothing concrete has been heard since.
The report quoted a source in the Ministry of Justice, which said that its new proposal planned to transfer the power to marry under-age girls from a marriage official to a Sharia court judge, and that marriages could only be approved with the consent of both the girl and the girl’s mother.
In addition, any request to marry a girl below the age of 15 would need to be accompanied by a medical report from a specialist committee, which would include a female gynaecologist and obstetrician, as well as a female psychiatrist and sociologist.
The source also said that the guardians of the girl should also “also ensure that the marriage is not consummated until the girl has been given sufficient time to be prepared mentally and is trained to take up the responsibilities of family life”.
Cases of child marriage, including brides as young as eight years old, have made headlines in local and international media in recent years.
In 2010, the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated group, hired a lawyer to help a 12-year old divorce her 80-year old husband.
Activists at the time saw the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage.
In 2009 the Justice Minister said that there were plans to regulate the marriages of young girls after a court refused to nullify the marriage of an eight-year old girl to a man 50 years her senior.
Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, which considers those under the age of 18 as children.