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Saudi Arabia

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
n/a
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
n/a

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
n/a
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
n/a

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in Saudi Arabia.

Child marriages are reportedly more common among Syrian, Egyptian and Yemeni girls living in the country.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.

There is limited information on child marriage in Saudi Arabia, but available studies show that it is driven by:

  • Poverty: Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has highlighted the complex relationship between poverty and child marriage, referring to it as a “vicious cycle”.
  • Harmful traditional practices: According to some senior religious leaders, girls as young as 10 can marry. Families sometimes arrange marriages to settle family debts without the consent of girls.

Trafficking: Some Saudi citizens reportedly travel abroad to engage in “summer” or “temporary marriages” which include payment for short-term sexual access to children. In 2016, the Jordanian government reported a case in which a Syrian girl was forced by her father into a temporary marriage for six months with a Saudi Arabian national.

What has this country committed to?

Saudi Arabia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. However the government did not report on progress made against target 5.3 during its 2018 Voluntary National Review at the High Level Political Forum, the mechanism through which countries report their progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Saudi Arabia acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2000, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2018, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the persistence of child and forced marriage in Saudi Arabia. The Committee recommended Saudi Arabia to take measures to eliminate the practice, especially in rural and remote areas, and prescribe and enforce a legal minimum age of marriage of 18 years for both women and men.

During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review, Saudi Arabia agreed to examine recommendations to ban child marriage, introduce a legal minimum age of marriage and implement a law prohibiting all forms of child marriage. During its 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Saudi Arabia agreed to examine recommendations to intensify efforts to prevent and combat child, early and forced marriages. 

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

In December 2019, the Ministry of Justice issued an order to the courts that any marriage application from someone under the age of 18 would have to be referred to a special court to make sure that the marriage “will not harm them and will achieve their best interest, whether they are male or female”.

The order comes after an amendment to the Child Protection Law passed by the Shura Council – a 150-member advisory body that does not have legislative powers but propose laws to the king and the cabinet – in January 2019. It sought to ban child marriages under 15 entirely and establish new rules for those between 16-18 years old.

Previously, in 2017, the Shura Council had also stated that no girl below the age of 15 should be permitted to get married, regardless of the circumstances. It also said that the marriage of girls aged between 15 and 18 requires the approval of her and her mother and a medical report testifying the girl is physically, psychologically and socially fit for marriage. The other two conditions are that the age of the groom should not be more than the double of the bride and that the marriage contract should be drafted by expert judges.

The Shura also highlighted that child marriages negatively impact the health of girls, leading to increased rates of abortion, premature births and neonatal mortality.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

There is no minimum legal age of marriage in Saudi Arabia.

Source

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of Saudi Arabia,2018, p. 7 and 17, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fSAU%2fCO%2f3-4&Lang=en (accessed March 2020).

Gulf News, Saudi Shura tightens rules on early marriages,[website], 2017, https://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/saudi-arabia/saudi-shura-tightens-rules-on-early-marriages-1.2062961 (accessed March 2020).

The National, Saudi Arabia moves to ban child marriage with a new ruling, [website], 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/saudi-arabia-moves-to-ban-child-marriage-with-a-new-ruling-1.955310 (accessed March 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Saudi Arabia, 2013, p.15, p.16, p.17, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/SAindex.aspx (accessed March 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Saudi Arabia, 2018, p. 22, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/SAindex.aspx (accessed March 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed March 2020).

United States State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, Saudi Arabia, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/saudi-arabia/ (accessed March 2020).

United States State Department, Trafficking in Persons Report. Saudi Arabia, 2017, https://www.refworld.org/docid/5959ec60c.html (accessed March 2020).

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)