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Why is no one protecting Saudi Arabia’s child brides?

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, asks why the practice of child marriage in Saudi Arabia – where there is no minimum legal age for marriage – is going unchallenged.

Atgaa, 10, and her sister Reemya, 8, are about to be married to men in their 60s. Atgaa will be her husband’s fourth wife. Their wedding celebrations are scheduled for this week and will take place in the town of Fayaadah Abban in Qasim, Saudi Arabia.

The girls are getting married because their financially struggling father needs the money that their dowries will provide: young girls of this age can fetch as much as $40,000 each.

Many readers might be shocked at this news. How can it be legal? The answer is that Saudi Arabia has no minimum age for marriage, and it is perfectly legal to marry even an hour-old child.

Three Saudi ministries share the blame for allowing and facilitating child marriages. The health ministry is tasked with conducting genetic tests for couples considering marriage. Saudi law requires potential brides and grooms to provide certificates of genetic testing before marriages can officially proceed.

The justice ministry regulates the marriage process and issues licences. And the interior ministry registers families and documents the relationships between family members. It is also the most powerful government agency; it has authority over all other ministries and can direct their activities at will.

As with many pernicious practices, child marriage would not exist without tacit support and approval from the country’s leadership. Far from condemning child marriage, the Saudi monarchy itself has a long history of marrying very young girls.

Read the full article on the Guardian website.