In another move implementing Western values, Saudi Arabia Monday issued a de facto ban on child marriages throughout the kingdom.
The order comes after an amendment to the kingdom’s Child Protection Law was passed by the Shoura Council in January 2018, seeking to ban child marriages under the age of 15 entirely.
The ban, which was nearly a decade in the making, was praised by several members of the Shoura Council, including Latifa Al-Shaalan, who on Twitter called it a “good step forward that was not easy to reach.”
The move is in accordance with the Child Protection Law, which stipulates that “before the conclusion of the marriage contract, it is necessary to ensure that a person marrying under the age of 18 will not be harmed, whether male or female.”
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“You cannot expect a girl of 10 or 12 to understand what marital relations are or for her body to correctly carry a baby. There are a lot of health issues involved,” Shoura Council member Dr. Hoda Al-Helaissi also remarked after the passage of the law.
Children’s rights groups have long campaigned to end the generations-old custom of child marriage, which continues to be practiced across the globe from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia to Europe.
Saudi Arabia has undergone a string of social reform initiatives aimed at modernizing the kingdom and improving the rights of women and children since Mohammad Bin Salman became crown prince two years ago.
In 2019, King Salman oversaw the passage of new laws allowing women over the age of 21 to apply for a passport and leave the country without the permission of male guardians. Many say that, in part, the positive moves have been a result of consultations and pressure from the Trump administration and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump has pushed for more rights for women and girls in the Kingdom and the relaxation of restrictions that rule their lives.
The amendments also eased long-standing social restrictions on women, granting them the right to register the birth of a child, a marriage or a divorce, and to be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.
In the same year, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female ambassador, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, to serve as its top diplomat in the United States, replacing Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, a son of King Salman and a former fighter pilot.
The previous year saw the Gulf nation allow women to drive cars, and rules were altered meaning women no longer need permission from a male guardian to study at university, undergo surgery, or get a job.
In October, the kingdom allowed for women to join the armed forces and hold a number of titles including first soldier, corporal, deputy sergeant, and sergeant in the Saudi Royal Land Forces, Royal Air Forces, Royal Navy, Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces, and Medical Services for Armed Forces.
As part of his ambitious reform agenda, the Crown Prince led an anti-corruption committee in 2017, arresting 11 princes and 38 other top figures in the kingdom, including ministers, military officers, and influential businessmen, in a crackdown on corruption.
In the United States, most states allow only individuals over the age of 18 to marry. However, some states make exceptions if minors have parental consent, the approval of a judge, or if they are recognized as adults, for example, if they are emancipated from their parents.
The Conversation reported that as of December 2017, minors of any age could legally marry in 25 states if they met their state’s exceptions.