A 12-year-old Saudi girl unexpectedly gave up her petition for divorce from an 80-year-old man her father forced her to marry in exchange for a dowry. Despite support from human rights lawyers and child welfare advocates, the girl and her mother, who originally sought the divorce, withdrew the case on Monday in a court in Buraidah, in Al-Qasim province.
Who is to blame here? The mother had earlier approached the government’s Human Rights Commission charging that the girl had been raped; the local media reported it. Now she and her daughter have backtracked. This is a social evil and has to be handled at several levels for I believe it is crucial to look at things holistically.
The father is a piece of scum who sold his daughter for 85,000 riyals ($22,667). The groom is a shameless man who not only paid for this nubile bride but also consummated the marriage. Why was the mother quiet initially, then made a noise and has now withdrawn the case? I can only sympathise with the girl. She has been brainwashed about obedience to parents.
If the Saudi government body was willing to intervene, if the case did reach the courts and the media reported it, then do we reproach Saudi Arabia or the social mores or the individuals concerned? How many such examples are there? Do all of them appear in the public eye? What are the compulsions that drive people to do this? We imagine the kingdom to be rich, therefore what sort of greed was at play here?
We have had cases of men way in their dotage lusting after young women even in the West. The matter of choice is usually mentioned, but what choice can we talk about when there is power at play and the young women are hankering after riches and fame, not to speak about coveting even minor luxuries to keep up with the Joneses?
I think not all is lost in this case. The Saudi government should in fact assert itself and drag the father to court as well as the mother. There must certainly be provisions for forcing a minor through pressure tactics. The media has evidence since the mother had approached a journalist. That 80-year-old man needs to be tried too.
There is always talk about how women are not allowed to drive or go unescorted in Saudi Arabia. These are important enough issues at one level. It is more crucial to address how individuals make decisions that reflect badly on a particular society that anyway has a record for being considered regressive, and in some instances rightly so.
It is, however, time we realise that there are watchdogs even in such societies and they should be encouraged rather than buffering what they are fighting against by giving the negative more mileage.
Also, in the fluffy omelettes we may not notice our own bad eggs.