Child marriages are still commonplace in the Arab world, with 1 in 7 girls marrying before the age of 18. But, Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council is looking to change things for girls in the kingdom.
Several Shura Council members have sent a letter to the Justice Ministry, demanding that marriage for girls under 15 years of age be banned, according to Arab News.
The 150-member advisory body also emphasized the need for more regulated matrimonial laws for girls between 15 and 18 years of age.
There are four conditions that must be met for marriages between that age group, including the approval of both the mother and the bride-to-be. A medical report confirming that the girl is physically, psychologically and socially fit for marriage is also required.
Also, the groom-to-be's age should not double that of the bride's. Finally, for all this to happen the marriage contract must be approved and made official by a specialized judge.
The letter was drafted by Moodhy Al Khalaf, Latifa Al Shaalan, Noura Al Musaed, Issa Al Ghaith and Fawzya Aba Al Khail.
The Shura Council – which includes 30 women – explained that this recommendation falls within “Sharia rules protecting human life from harm,” according to Arab News.
It goes on to explain that child marriages have proven to cause psychological, physical and social damages.
It's not a first
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.
"There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” said Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, according to Gulf News.
The statement went against the wishes of the kingdom's justice ministry, which has been urging for a minimum age requirement for marriages in the kingdom 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.
Throughout the Arab world, many organizations and governmental bodies have been fighting for change.
Lebanese NGO KAFA has long been fighting for change, launching campaign after campaign in an effort to amend Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution, which gives religious authorities the freedom to impose their own laws on various issues including marriage, divorce and child custody.
Back in 2015, KAFA launched its 'Child Marriage' stunt, raising awareness on the lack of unified civil personal status laws, with a video featuring a minor taking wedding photos with a man three times her age in a public space.
The video ends with a call-to-action, with a phrase that translates to "laws from the time of our grandparents can not be taken seriously," highlighting the importance of progress.
The NGO recently released a new video titled "A Wedding or a Funeral," calling for change the soonest possible.
The video aims to shed light on the 'death of dreams, hopes and ambitions' when girls are forced into marriage at such a young age.
"It is not a wedding party, but the funeral of a girl’s future," as Al-Monitor put it.