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Affecting Change in Saudi Law on Child Marriage

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The law is all-powerful, but occasionally culture — as in people — drive decision-making. That's what's happening in Saudi Arabia for young girls, for families, for that society and humanity.

An eight-year old girl has divorced (you read that right) her 50-year old husband (you read that correctly, too). The girl's father had reportedly sold her "rights" to the 50-year old man for $13,000. The girls' mother, understandably, was deeply shaken by the marriage and had pleaded for a divorce. The court had denied the request. In Saudi Arabia there is no minimum age for marriage.

What's more shocking: the lack of an age requirement, that men desire children to "marry," or that this is common practice in that society?

"Any culture that could allow, support and encourage such naked cruelty to its children has a hole in its soul and engages in shameless, pernicious, damaging beyond belief child abuse," said Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist, television and radio social commentator and author of Take Out Your Nose Ring Honey, We're Going To Grandma's.

Is marrying a child truly what humanity defines as marriage, or is it a psychologically twisted rationalization for evil? There is no common ground, no investing in each other as a team, having a confidante to go through life with, no mutual support, no adult conversations and no growth as a couple. There is also the element of physical intimacy. Do we really wish to visualize and try to understand the effects of that element on a child?

"Children at this age view themselves as the center of the world. Common thoughts at this age when something difficult occurs are ‘I am being punished for something I did’ or ‘This just proves I am a bad girl',” said Elizabeth Lombardo, family therapist and author of the upcoming book The Happiness Prescription: Your Complete Guide to Happiness, Regardless of What is Going on in your Life.

Do we need an expert to understand the dysfunction of the man who desires such intimacy?

The world put pressure on the Saudis to consider a change to their law, their philosophy, and their view of females – from women to children. Females are devalued in that society, second-class citizens.

"It shows a very male-dominated culture that is steeped in violence and disrespect," said author Jennifer Austin Leigh, a doctor of psychology, also known as Dr. Jenn For Girls.

The Pan African Forum, according to the web site ChildInfo.org, calls child marriage "commercial exploitation." The girls become indentured servants, having many wife duties without being an adult. There are, says ChildInfo, 60 million child brides. 

Saudi Arabia's Muslim clergy believe all is well with the old ways. They believe there is nothing inherently wrong with forced child marriages to mature men. A senior cleric even went so far as to say that those who oppose such a philosophy — seeing 10-year old girls as too young to be married off — are "doing the girls an injustice."

This is psychological-based denial of what most of the world believes. This is not just ideology. This is not culture against culture. It's not even a matter of law in some respects. It's refusal to protect the vulnerable and a refusal to see one's views as universally flawed.

The country's new justice minister did say last month that the government (hold on to your seat for this one) is "doing a study on underage marriage."

We're not focusing on 16-and 17-year old girls. What's at stake are the minds and bodies of children far younger, the emotional and physical scars they will fight to overcome, maybe for a lifetime, the bondage, and the loss of rights for them to have any say in whom they marry, when to marry, and if to marry.

There is no overhaul of the law taking place, but there are ripples in the water. There is pressure to do the moral good.

Maybe other nations wish to stay disconnected, but being a fence sitter doesn't advance civilization. Sometimes courage is necessary, and persistence in righting a wrong – a terrible, transparent violation of civil rights.

The world can make a difference. It must persevere, get creative, and insist on change. Educate a culture, illustrate the human damage of their own people, show them an alternative way, one in which they can also save face. Change the culture, show them expectations of civility, and watch the law change, too.

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About Michael Toebe on Behavior, Culture & Relationships

  • The fact that this is the ONLY comment reflects just how inward looking most of the readers at this site are.

    It hurts to see.