TAIF – The controversial divorce case of two minor girls trapped in “an invalid trade-off marriage” to two septuagenarian men goes to court here on Saturday.
The mothers of the two girls, Shaikha 16, and Abeer 11, have filed for divorce on the grounds that the minors were forced into illegal wedlock and were victims of domestic violence.
The case has sparked widespread debate in Saudi society with religious scholars expressing their views as well.
Saudi Human Rights Association chairman Turki Al-Sudeiri told Al-Eqtisadiyya Arabic daily that minors marrying is a violation of international agreements on children’s rights, and called on the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia to end them. He also said that the girl’s agreement is a basic condition for the marriage.
Renowned Saudi scholar Sheikh Abudlmohsin Al-Obaikan has opined that the girls should be granted divorce and the two men severely punished for allegedly trading off the girls in an “exchange marriage” of their daughters without any dowry or wedding ceremony.
The Sheikh’s opinion is also based on evidence that in both cases the marriage did not have the full consent of the minors.
However, the marriage contractor has refuted the charge that the girls were illegally married off. “The contract is perfectly legitimate as it satisfies all the legal pillars of an Islamic marriage including the consent of the two brides and the payment of their dowries,” the marriage contractor said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The two guardians received SR50,000 and SR45,000,” as dowry, he said.
In Islam, a marriage is valid only if both the bride and her guardian fully accept it. Moreover, the dowry should be handed over the bride’s guardian in hard cash and must be seen by the marriage witnesses and guests.
Sheikh Obaikan’s conclusion that the two marriages were illegal is based on reports that the two girls were threatened into marriage by their fathers.
But the marriage contractors said: “The girls had come with their fathers to Yanbu with all their ID’s and documents, including the results of the pre-martial tests.”
In Yanbu, while Shaikha was doing her pre-martial test, she called her divorced mother, who she had not seen for 10 years, to save her from what she said was a forced marriage.
Shaikha’s mother acted quickly and complained to the authorities, including the National Human Rights Society (NHRS). She also alleged that after the divorce, Shaikha and her sister were subject to domestic violence at the hands of their father.
The marriage contractor said the two girls had verbally agreed to the marriage in Yanbu. “None of them cried in disapproval as their mothers claim,” he said.
After signing the marriage contract, the two couples went to Taif for the honeymoon. There, Shaikha tried to commit suicide to escape marriage to a 75-year-old man and was admitted to King Faisal Hospital in the city. She was subsequently taken to a social care house as the authorities started to investigate the case.
The suicide attempt suggests that marriage does not hold its main goal in Islam, which is the realization of tranquility and compassion between the spouses.
The marriage contractor insists they were not trade-off marriages. “It was unclear to me then that they were under pressure,” he said. “If I had known about the threats, I would have never finalized the two marriages.”
One of the two marriage witnesses said that no dowry was actually presented or paid in front of him. “It was only mentioned rather than actually paid,” the witness said. – Okaz