Just when you start to think the tiniest amount of progress is being made in Saudi Arabia (and I do mean tiny), my shoulders slump as I'm confronted with stories like this.
I'd been following this case somewhat. The girl's father sold his daughter to a close friend, to pay a debt. I find myself wondering how much money exactly the rest of his little girl's life was worth. His wife, the girl's mother, did what I hope any of us would do. She fought it. She took it to court. She even had a win of sorts, just a couple of weeks ago. Sadly though, today, the original judge has refused to overturn his earlier decision, and this girl is stuck now, married to a 47 year old man. Apparently, he was good enough to rule that the man was not allowed to have sex with her until she hit puberty.
I hit puberty at 9. So did my mother. So did my niece. 9. 47. Can you imagine what she will go through?
But it's ok. She's old enough. We're not being fair.
(CNN) -- The debate over the controversial practice of child marriage in Saudi Arabia was pushed back into the spotlight this week, with the kingdom's top cleric saying that it's OK for girls as young as 10 to wed.
"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
The issue of child marriage has been a hot-button topic in the deeply conservative kingdom in recent weeks.
Late last month, a Saudi judge refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man.
The judge, Sheikh Habib Abdallah al-Habib, rejected a petition from the girl's mother, whose lawyer said the marriage was arranged by her father to settle a debt with "a close friend." The judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he would not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.
Al-Sheikh was asked during a Monday lecture about parents forcing their underage daughters to marry.
Saudi judge refuses to annul marriage of girl, 8
"We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls," he said, according to the newspaper. "We should know that Shariah law has not brought injustice to women."
Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, recently told CNN that his organization has heard many other cases of child marriages.
"We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger -- especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke said.
Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."
Last month, Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi government-run Human Rights Commission, said his organization is fighting against child marriages.
"The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia," al-Harithi said. "Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed." He added that his organization has been able to intervene and stop at least one child marriage from taking place.
Wajeha al-Huwaider, co-founder of the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, told CNN last month that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to "keep us backward and in the dark ages."
She said the marriages cause girls to "lose their sense of security and safety. Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."
The Saudi Ministry of Justice has made no public comment on the issue.
And while we're at it, What the Hell?
By Mohammed Jamjoom and Saad Abedine
(CNN) -- A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a 75-year-old Syrian woman to 40 lashes, four months imprisonment and deportation from the kingdom for having two unrelated men in her house, according to local media reports.
According to the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan, troubles for the woman, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, began last year when a member of the religious police entered her house in the city of Al-Chamli and found her with two unrelated men, "Fahd" and "Hadian."
Fahd told the policeman he had the right to be there, because Sawadi had breast-fed him as a baby and was therefore considered to be a son to her in Islam, according to Al-Watan. Fahd, 24, added that his friend Hadian was escorting him as he delivered bread for the elderly woman. The policeman then arrested both men.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism and punishes unrelated men and women who are caught mingling.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with duties such as enforcing dress codes, prayer times and segregation of the sexes. Under Saudi law, women face many restrictions, including a strict dress code and a ban on driving. Women also need to have a man's permission to travel.
Al Watan obtained the court's verdict and reported it was partly based on the testimony of the religious police. In his ruling, the judge said it was proved that Fahd is not Sawadi's son through breastfeeding.
The court also doled out punishment to the two men. Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes; Hadian was sentenced to six months in prison and 60 lashes. In a phone call with Al Watan, the judge declined to comment and suggested the newspaper review the case with the Ministry of Justice. Sawadi told the newspaper that she will appeal, adding that Fahd is indeed her son through breastfeeding.
A top Saudi human rights lawyer, Abdulrahman Al-Lahem, volunteered to defend the woman and the two men and has been given power of attorney by them. He told CNN he plans to file an appeal in the case next week.
Efforts to reach Saudi officials at the Justice Ministry, religious police and other agencies were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington said he had no details on the case.
The case sparked anger in Saudi Arabia.
"It's made everybody angry because this is like a grandmother," Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider told CNN. "Forty lashes -- how can she handle that pain? You cannot justify it."
This is not the first Saudi court case to cause controversy.
In 2007, a 19-year-old gang-rape victim in the Saudi city of Qatif was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for meeting with an unrelated male. The seven rapists, who abducted the woman and man, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.
The case sparked international outrage and Saudi King Abdullah subsequently pardoned the "Qatif Girl" and the unrelated male.
Al-Lahem, who has taken on many high-profile cases in recent years, represented the girl and received an award from Human Rights Watch last year. However, a travel ban issued by Saudi authorities kept him from traveling to London, England, to receive it.
Many Saudis hope the Ministry of Justice will be reformed. Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz announced in February a major Cabinet reshuffling in which many hard-line conservatives, including the head of the commission, were dismissed and replaced with younger, more moderate members.
The new appointments represented the largest shakeup since King Abdullah took power in 2005 and were welcomed in Saudi Arabia as progressive moves on the part of the king, whom many see as a reformer. Among ministers who've been replaced is the minister of justice.
The actions of the religious police have come under increased scrutiny in Saudi Arabia recently, as more and more Saudis urge that the commission's powers be limited. Last week, the religious police detained two male novelists for questioning after they tried to get the autograph of a female writer, Halima Muzfar, at a book fair in Riyadh, the capital of the kingdom.
"This is the problem with the religious police," added Al-Huwaider, "watching people and thinking they're bad all the time. It has nothing to do with religion. It's all about control. And the more you spread fear among people, the more you control them. It's giving a bad reputation to the country."
She is actually older than my grandmother. 40 lashes. But it's ok. Don't worry. The person administering the lashes to this frail widow will hold a copy of the Qur’an under his arm. You know, to minimise his force. Nice, no?
Could be worse, I guess. She could have been gang raped and then sentenced to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes.
What's there to say? It's been pointed out to me that this blog can be depressing. It's been pointed out to me that I can't actually do anything with this, that me blogging about this doesn't actually help anyone.
But how can you not? How can you turn your head and refuse to even acknowledge it?
I can't. Can you?