Get ’em Young

Eight years for marriage, that’s what the Belgian French-language paper La Dernière Heure wrote about in a recent article. No, that’s not the average duration of matrimony in Belgium, that’s as in a marriage for a girl of eight years of age, united in connubial bliss with a man in his fifties (Married at eight years? The judge “gives himself some time to reflect”).

Now, of course this isn’t happening in Belgium, it’s happening in Saudi Arabia. And indeed, that marriage of the eight-year-old schoolgirl – arranged by her father – is an established fact. The news aspect is that the girl’s mother has appealed to a Saudi judge, one Sheikh Habib al-Habib, to invalidate the marriage. (In a further grotesque twist, “habib” in Arabic means “darling, beloved” – male gender – so the judge’s name is “Darling the Darling.”) However, for his part the husband has made it plain to the judge that he does not desire any such invalidation – under Saudi law he is allowed more than one wife, after all.

All of this is happening not in any major Saudi city, but in the town of Unayzah, some 420 km to the north of Riyadh. Further word comes to us from Abdallah Jtili [sic], lawyer for the girl’s mother: “The judge said he wanted to reflect on the affair further and give the parties time for a possible friendly settlement, before pronouncing a verdict,” which, if it turns out to be necessary, is scheduled for 20 December. Jtili adds that the girl in question “does not yet know she has been married.” Well okay, then.

The article goes on to note that another eight-year-old girl last April did succeed in divorcing the 28-year-old she had been forced to marry. But that was in Yemen.

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