The US on Wednesday called the case of an eight-year-old Saudi girl married to a man 50 years older a “clear and unacceptable violation of human rights,” in a rare criticism of its oil-producing ally.
US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the US had frequently raised the issue of child marriages with Saudi officials, although he could not say whether this specific case had been raised.
A court in the town of Unaiza in Saudi Arabia upheld for the second time last week the marriage of the Saudi girl to a man who is about 50 years her senior on condition he does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.
“Child marriage is a clear and unacceptable violation of human rights in our view,” Wood told reporters in Washington. “US officials at all levels frequently raise with the Saudi government our human rights concerns, especially those dealing with ... children and child marriages.”
On Tuesday, the Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed al-Issa was quoted as saying Riyadh would regulate the marriages of young girls after the court refused to nullify the eight-year-old’s marriage.
Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society that applies an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans unrelated men and women from mixing and gives fathers the right to wed their sons and daughters to whomever they deem fit.
The Justice Ministry aims “to put an end to arbitrariness by parents and guardians in marrying off minor girls,” al-Issa told al-Watan newspaper, partially owned by members of the royal family.
The comments suggested the practice of marrying off young girls would not be abolished.
The regulations would seek to “preserve the rights, fending off blights to end the negative aspects of underage girls’ marriage,” he said.
Many young girls in Arab countries that observe tribal traditions are married to older husbands, but not before puberty. Such marriages are also driven by poverty in countries like Yemen.