Riyadh, April 20 – Saudi Arabia is looking into introducing a minimum age for marriage, a justice ministry official was quoted as saying on Sunday, after a court upheld the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a man 50 years her senior.
Al-Madina newspaper quoted Mohamed al-Babtain, the director of marriage officials at the justice ministry, as saying the ministry had started “looking into the legal age of marriage”.
He did not elaborate.
Saudi Arabia has no legal age limit for marriage.
Justice ministry officials were not available for comment.
The newspaper also quoted prominent cleric Sheikh Mohsen al-Obaikan as saying that girls below the age of 18 should not be allowed to marry.
“Some parents marry off their daughters for personal or material interest or for various allurements with total disregard for the girl’s interest,” Obaikan said.
Obaikan called for a ban on “marrying off little girls below the age of 18 to avoid these blights”, the newspaper added.
A court in the town of Unaiza upheld for the second time last week the marriage of the girl to a man who is about 50 years her senior, on condition he does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.
Obaikan, also an adviser to King Abdullah, is the most senior cleric so far to have spoken out against the marriage of underage girls since the court’s ruling which has drawn international criticism and embarrassed Saudi authorities.
The Saudi judiciary system is made up of clerics for whom Islam’s early teachings are the main jurisprudential references.
Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society that applies an austere form of Sunni Islam which bans unrelated men and women from mixing and gives fathers the right to wed their sons and daughters to whoever they deem fit.
Many Saudi clerics, including the kingdom’s chief cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, endorse the practice.