Forced Marriage Between Elderly Saudi Man And Teen Girl Prompts Outrage

01/08/2013 04:05 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2013

The contentious marriage between a teenage girl and a man more than four times her age has renewed debate in Saudi Arabia about the country's open acceptance of child brides.

Media reports differ on the age of the groom, who has not offered his name to journalists. While many publications list the man as 90 years old, CNN says he is 70. The wife is reported to have been 15 years old, though the husband claimed to CNN that he thought she was 25.

Al Arabiya writes that the groom, who paid a dowry equivalent to $17,500 for the young girl, was outraged when on their wedding night she locked herself in the bedroom and refused to consummate the contract. When the girl, whose name has not been released, returned to her relatives, he reportedly threatened to sue for either the return of his money or his bride.

Gulf News reports that a court in southwestern Saudi Arabia last week granted the couple a divorce, over the objections of her husband.

"I did not want the dowry money back, and I still want my wife to come home,” Gulf News reported him as saying. “I am going to take the case to a court this week to rule on the conspiracy by the family to take my money. My wife’s family have now taken her out to Riyadh so that I cannot reach her."

The site also writes that the man is already married to a woman in her 80s. The man is also said to have previously married a 15-year-old Yemeni girl, who fled the marriage just weeks after the wedding.

The case has become a new rallying point for advocates against marriages between young girls and older men.

Dr. Suhaila Zein al-Abedin, a member of the Saudi National Association for Human Rights, told CNN that he believes the girl's parents should be held accountable for the marriage.

"When you consider the very large difference in age, it looks more like this was not a marriage, but like the girl was sold," al-Abedin said.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia currently has no age requirement for marriages, and patriarchs control matches. Some fathers may be more inclined to offer their daughters in marriage to older grooms in return for substantial dowries, the paper reported.

While the Saudi Justice Ministry has reportedly been weighing potential age restrictions, Amnesty International's Middle East spokesman, James Lynch, told Reuters that "until we see actual legislation and how it's implemented, rather than merely fine words, we will continue to have serious concerns about lack of protection for girls from early and forced marriage."

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