Saudi 50-year-old divorces child bride: media

Thu Apr 30, 2009 5:07pm EDT
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JEDDAH (Reuters) - A 50-year old Saudi man has agreed to divorce his 9-year-old bride, media reported on Thursday, after the marriage drew international criticism.

The decision, reported by newspapers Alwatan and Al-Riyadh, came after months of court hearings, criticism from the United Nations and an international media frenzy about Saudi Arabia's human rights practices.

"This is a good step and I think the man did it because he was in a lot of pressure from everyone," Wajeha Al-Huaider, founder of the Group for Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, told Reuters by telephone.

Al-Huaider, who campaigned for the child, said she hoped the pressure generated by the case would eventually lead to a law banning child marriages.

The child's mother, who opposed the marriage which took place when the girl was 8 years old, took the case to court last year. The court in the small town of Onaiza upheld the marriage on condition that the husband did not consummate it until the girl reached puberty.

In Saudi Arabia's patriarchal society, which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, fathers have the right to decide whom their daughters marry.

"Islam does not specify an age for the marriage contract. The contract is one thing and the consummation of marriage is another," Ahmed Al Modi, an Islamic scholar and writer, told Reuters.

In the case of the Onaiza child bride he said the judge could not order a divorce because the marriage contract was carried out according to established rules for marriage, which include the approval of the father.

"When the child is under age the father can approve the marriage contract but as soon as the child reaches puberty she can object to the marriage," Al Modi said, emphasizing that it was merely a contract, signed to "secure her future."   Continued...