Saudi Arabia is moving to ban child marriage, but activists warn that loopholes will continue to put children at risk of forced marriage.
The Shura Council, a top advisory body to the government, approved regulations to prohibit marriage for both girls and boys who are under 15-years-old. Minors who are under 18 will need approval from a special court to wed.
Both of these are significant changes for the country which, until now, has had no minimum age for marriage.
Yet the caveat on minors under 18 being allowed to wed with court approval means that the new regulations may not fully protect children from forced marriages, particularly if they are being coerced by their own families.
The South China Morning Post reports:
Council member Lina Almaeena said the approval by the council, which does not have legislative powers but can propose laws to the king and the cabinet, is a “great accomplishment” for the kingdom in protecting its young citizens.
“There were no marriage limitations before, so for this to be passed and prohibit marriage for a child under 15 is a huge accomplishment because you will be protecting young boys and girls,” she said.
Heather Hamilton, deputy director of Girls Not Brides, said it is “encouraging” that the kingdom is setting age limits for marriage, but the rules are a “far cry” from protecting children under 18, who can still marry with court approval.
“Girls are still at risk of being forced into marriage if their parents can persuade a court to agree,” she said in an emailed statement.
Arab News reported that the Shura Council approved the new policy with two-thirds of its members backing the changes.
Shura Council member Dr. Hoda Al-Helaissi said this step was important to protect the rights of children.
“The usual argument was that it took place in the days of the Prophet (Muhammad). But times have changed since the olden days, and we are not just talking about Islam. It was used as a bartering tool for (those in) poverty, where the fathers received dowries,” she explained.
“Things are completely different now. The law gives them the possibility of an education and future.”
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