Saturday, May 9, 2009

Repugnant transactions concerning brides

From the sale of child brides in Saudi Arabia to the difficulty of enforcing the laws against Suttee (self-immolation on the husband's funeral pyre) in India, marriage is a fertile area of contention about practices that many find repugnant even in cases that the parties themselves may not.

In Saudi Ariabia, a small victory for social liberals in the contest with social and religious conservatives over whether sales of children into marriage are a repugnant transaction: Victory for Saudi girl, 8, sold by her father to a 50-year-old man
"The girl, who has not been named and who has been living with her mother in the city of Onaiza, was given to the older man in marriage by her father to pay off a debt." ...

"The case has reopened the debate in Saudi Arabia on whether a minimum age for marriage should be introduced. After the first two petitions failed, the Saudi newspaper columnist Amal al-Zahid wrote: “The trafficking of child brides — a most reactionary practice that takes us back to the days of concubines [and] slave girls” should be outlawed. She added that the country was incurring “behavioural abnormalities and problems of which only Allah knows”.
Human rights groups in Saudi Arabia and abroad have condemned the practice of child marriages. "
"Some attempts are being made to strengthen women’s rights. The Justice Ministry is reported to be considering reforms to impose a minimum age for marriage and to end abuses of the system by fathers of girls.
In February King Abdullah appointed Norah al-Fayez as the Deputy Minister for Women’s Education, the first woman minister in the kingdom. It has also signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Despite such efforts, many traditionalists in positions of influence in government and religious life are becoming more strict in their observance of Islamic law. The country’s highest religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, has said that it is not against Islamic law to marry girls under the age of 15."

In India, suttee has been illegal since the 1800's, but in some Indian communities it continues to be thought of as a source of honor, and it has been difficult to entirely eradicate, in part because some instances seem to be voluntary decisions by the wives.

Like the sale of child brides in Saudia, the prospect that some of these instances may not be voluntary casts them in a different light, and changes the debate from one that might resemble the controversies involving assisted suicide to the more straightforward debates about human trafficking and murder. But the discussion is complicated by the fact that, in both Saudi Arabia and India, there is a not insubstantial community that finds such transactions appropriate.

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