Poverty blamed for forced union in Saudi

January 12, 2013

Shareefa’s father and brother in front of their straw hut – Al Sharq

The Saudi man who married off his young daughter to an elderly man has said that his family’s “extremely dire living situation” forced him to take the decision.

Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission succeeded in formally ending the controversial marriage between a nonagenarian and a teenager that the bride’s father blamed on the family’s economic situation.

The case started when the would-be groom proposed to the teenager and offered her parents, a Saudi father and Yemeni mother, a 45,000 riyal dowry (Dh44,074) and said that he would fund the celebrations.

The father accepted the ­offer and agreed to the marriage despite the huge age difference between the bride and groom.

“We have dispatched a team to the area where the marriage took place and had contacts with the young woman and the man to verify the information we received,” the commission said in a statement. “We wanted to protect the young woman from this unbalanced wedding and provide the legal assistance she might need. We also met the head of the local tribe and dignitaries and we eventually reached an agreement for the divorce that was signed by the parties involved.”

Last week, a decision in line with local traditions in a rural area in Jizan in southwestern Saudi Arabia reportedly put an end to the marriage between Haidar Bin Ali Masrahi, a 90-year-old man, and Shareefa Ali Shuwai, his teenage bride, after she refused the forced wedding.

The verdict was meant to conclude a dispute between the man and his bride’s family that has lasted for several months, however, the 90-year-old insisted on either getting his wife back or her dowry money returned before agreeing to the divorce.

The marriage was never consummated after the bride locked herself in a room following the celebrations and refused to allow her husband in.

The bride spent the night crying and in the early morning, the groom called her family to “reason” with her.

When her relatives arrived, she opened the door and they were shocked to find her in tears. They also say she was so distressed she had torn her wedding dress, a local daily newspaper said. The family took the bride home and refused to compromise with the groom.

When he later visited them to take his wife home, the family refused, leading the man to ask for the dowry to be returned.

The family said that they had spent it and that they did not have any money to give back, prompting him to take action against them.

Shareefa’s father attributed his decision to accept the peculiar marriage to his family’s “extremely dire living conditions”.

“Poverty had pushed me to marry Shareefa to a man who was much older than she was,” Ali Shuwai, a father of 13, was quoted as saying by local Arabic daily Al Sharq. “I was lured by the money because my family needed it. We live in a straw hut that does not protect us from the terrible cold or the sweltering heat. My family have been through extremely hard times.”

Shuwai said that his daughter was not 15 as reported by the media but was in her 20s.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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