The marriage of a 90-year-old man to a 15-year-old girl has sparked condemnation from human rights and social media activists throughout Saudi Arabia, while the groom insists that he has committed no crime.
The girl, who was sold by her parents for almost $20,000, reportedly became terrified of the man on their first wedding night. After locking herself in her room for two days, she managed to escape and return to her parents.
In an interview, the 90-year-old man insisted that his marriage was “legal and correct,” and that he had paid a dowry of $17,500 to marry her, pan-Arabic news website Al Arabiya reported.
He said that on his first night with the bride, she went into the bedroom before him, locking the door from the inside so he could not enter, making him “suspicious about some kind of conspiracy” between the bride and her mother.
Friends of the bride’s family said that she was frightened on the wedding night, and escaped to her parents’ house after locking herself in the room for two consecutive days.
The man has vowed to sue his in-laws to return either the girl or the dowry.
Suhaila Zein al-Abedin, a member of the Saudi National Association for Human Rights (NSHR), has urged Saudi authorities to intervene “as soon as possible to save this child from tragedy.”
He noted that in Islam, marriage must be based on mutual consent, and the fact that the girl locked herself in her room proved otherwise.
The girl’s parents should be held responsible for marrying their daughter to a man 75 years older than her – old enough to be her great-grandfather, he explained.
He also urged that a minimum age should be established for marrying young girls, which could lead to violators being punished, pan-Arab daily newspaper al-Hayat reported.
Psychologist Jamal al-Toueiki said that forced marriage may subject girls to abuse and violence, and could lead to suicide if nothing is done to save them.
Twitter users were scathing in their condemnation. Legal expert Mouhammad Khaled Alnuzha asked: “Is this a case of human trafficking crimes punishable by law?”
Samira al-Ghamdi, a psychologist at a child protection center, wrote on Twitter, “We need a law to penalize these acts… enough child abuse.”
Nawal Saad wrote, “When people of reason and wisdom are asked to be silent and the ludicrous are set loose, we will see these anti-human behaviors.”
Around a fifth of all marriages in Saudi Arabia end in divorce, with forced marriages finally being outlawed in 2005.
But the Kingdom has no law against child marriage, and clerics and religious judges justify the practice based on Islamic and Saudi tradition.
During 2010, nearly 60,000 Saudi couples tied the knot in the conservative Muslim kingdom, while there were more than 18,000 divorce cases.
“This means that the Kingdom is suffering from a marriage failure rate of nearly 30 percent,” a local study revealed in a report published by Dubai-based website Emirates 24/7. “As a result, Saudi Arabia is suffering from a high number of female spinsters, who are now estimated at 1.5 million…. the number could rise above 4 million in the next five years.”