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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Saudi Arabia bans forced marriage
Saudi women
Women rights are limited in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's top religious authority has banned the practice of forcing women to marry against their will.

Grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said forced marriage was against Islamic law and those responsible for it should be jailed.

The high number of forced marriages in Saudi Arabia is believed to be a factor in the country's steep divorce rate.

The ban is a significant victory for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, where females face a range of restrictions.


Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who heads the Council of Senior Ulema (Scholars) said: "Forcing a woman to marry someone she does not want and preventing her from wedding that whom she chooses... is not permissible" under Islamic law.

He said fathers who coerce daughters into in marriage should be jailed and not released "until they change their minds".

According to Saudi media, about half of marriages in the country end in divorce, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Women are subject to a number of restrictions in the kingdom - an absolute monarchy, governed according to a highly conservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

They are obliged to wear a veil and are not permitted to travel alone or mix with men other than relatives.

Women were not able to obtain separate identity cards until 2001, and even then only with the permission of a male relative.

They do not have the right to vote or run for public office and, until June last year, were forbidden from working in most jobs.

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