Minor Brides & the Arranged Marriage System

by Melissa Mahfouz
Special to iVoryTowerz

From a western standpoint, much of the reaction to this story will likely be: "Those Arabs are at it again. Typical behavior." From a moral standpoint, this story tears at the heart: another case of a minor attempting to attain a marriage annulment in courts in Saudi Arabia. The case finally managed to find its way to international headlines recently. But this case is by no means an isolated one, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

What's at issue are the rights of an eight-year old girl who is married to a man her elder by 39 years. The girl has been at the mercy of a Saudi judge for more than a year, with her case being invalidated due to a lack of what the judge called proper representation, as her mother is not her legal guardian.

This situation is a microcosm of a larger, far more complex and intertwined global epidemic. Regardless of the moral implications, the fact remains that girls, many of whom have yet to reach puberty let alone double-digits in age, are being appropriated throughout class strata as a business transaction. If a man owes a debt, he provides his daughter as a form of compensation. What was formerly a less prevalent practice has become ingrained in the modern-day psyche; it is viewed as immoral by a majority, yet relatively few preventative measures have had an effect. The practice continues.

The debate has come to revolve around whether or not such occurrences are culturally justifiable. Many would claim that in particular regions of the world, notably Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, legal and religious recognition of a marriage justify its consummation, regardless of age. Yet, from the western moral tradition, that's the epitome of barbarism. The question now becomes how international organizations should get involved. When does public activism transcend state sovereignty? The U.N.’s Human Rights Commission, along with a plethora of advocacy organizations, has denounced the practice of adults marrying child brides and demanded its cessation. Saudi Arabia has internally recognized the antagonism received from the international community, and gradually has taken action. But is the action too slow? As society continues to debate the practice, young girls continue to remain vulnerable to marriages forged with men who often surpass their age by several decades.

And by no means can the 21st Century's global citizenry claim ignorance. Information about preventative measures, as well as the cultural underpinnings of this practice, is accessible within the realms of a mouse click. What needs to occur is not pitchfork retaliation against foreign governments, but rather a grassroots movement, based upon factual data, to get the wheels in motion for those without a voice.

(For a posting on a similar topic, please see: "Kidnapping the Bride: An Old Tradition Returns.")

(Photo by Ranoush of
Ismailyah, Egypt via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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