Child marriages are still commonplace in the Arab world, with one in seven girls marrying before the age of 18. But, Saudi Arabia's Shura Council is changing things up.
This week, Saudi Arabia approved regulations which prohibit marriage for children under 15 years of age. The ban on child marriages came following a ruling by the kingdom's Shura Council, which saw two thirds of the advisory body vote in favor, according to Arab News.
However, the new regulations include loopholes; teens - under the age of 18 - can tie the knot, if granted approval from a specialized court. "There needs to be a complete ban on child marriage - with no exceptions. You have to make it clear to society that this is a negative social phenomenon and it should be stopped," said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, according to Reuters.
Prior to the ruling, the ultraconservative country did not have a minimum legal age for marriage.
"There were no marriage limitations before, so for this to be passed and prohibit marriage for a child under 15 is a huge accomplishment because you will be protecting young boys and girls," one council member told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
It's been in the works for years
In 2016, Saudi's Grand Mufti expressed a lack of interest in banning child brides, saying there is nothing wrong with girls under the age of 15 getting married.
The statement went against the wishes of the kingdom's justice ministry, which has been urging for a minimum age requirement for marriages for years. In 2014, the ministry submitted a report detailing the negative social and psychological effects of underage marriage – including religious, social and medical views, and recommendations – to religious scholars, requesting a fatwa against the practice.
In 2017, several Shura Council members sent a letter to the kingdom's justice ministry, calling for the ban of marriages for girls under 15 years of age. At the time, the 150-member advisory body also emphasized the need for more regulated matrimonial laws for girls between 15 and 18 years of age.
A discussion online ensued on the topic
Hours after the news made its way to the public, an Arabic hashtag titled "suitable age for marriage" began making the rounds online. The trending hashtag saw many people share their opinions on the matter. Many set the age limit for women much lower than that of men.
"There is no suitable age for marriage ... but if one is financially stable, then why not"
"Men should get married at 30, women at 18"
"Girls at 15, men at 60"
"I prefer men get married at 26, women at 18"
Some had quite a different take
"Girls! Don't get married before the age of 25, trust me, I've tried it."
"There is no specific age, as long as you're above 25"
Child marriage continues to be a major issue all around the world
Normalizing child marriages has become commonplace, and thousands of Arabs who marry off their young daughters use religious edicts to excuse their actions.
Even though the problem is widespread in the Arab world, especially when it comes to rural areas, it isn't limited to the region and is also considered a global issue affecting numerous countries including the United States.
According to the World Economic Forum, 117 countries around the world allow child marriages, either because there is no set age specification or it is allowed under certain circumstances. Globally, UNICEF says 39,000 child marriages occur daily. While one in three girls in the developing world are forced into marriage before the age of 18.