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Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 11:36 UK

Young Saudi girl's marriage ended

Saudi Arabian women in Riyadh (March 2009)
Saudi Arabia is ruled under an austere and patriarchal form of Sunni Islam

Media reports say an arranged marriage between a Saudi girl aged eight and a man in his 50s has been annulled, in a case attracting worldwide criticism.

The Saudi Gazette says the divorce was agreed in an out-of-court settlement after a judge rejected two attempts to grant the girl a divorce.

The case prompted Saudi officials to say it would start regulating the marriages of young girls.

Rights groups say some Saudi families marry off young daughters for money.

The judge who first heard the case in the town of Unaiza refused to end the marriage at the request of the girl's mother , but he stipulated the groom could not have sex with the girl until she reached puberty.

The girl's father is said to have married her off against her mother's wishes to a close friend in order that he could pay off a debt.

A new judge was appointed to oversee the case, who issued the annulment after the husband finally gave up his insistence that the marriage had been legal, reports say.

Saudi Arabia implements an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans free association between the sexes and gives fathers the right to wed their children to whomever they deem fit.

Saudi commentators pointed out that the marriage took place in the central province of Qaseem - the heartland of Saudi Islamic fundamentalism.

Earlier this year, the country's highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.

On 15 April, after this case generated considerable negative publicity, Justice Minister Muhammad Issa said he wanted to put an end to the "arbitrary" way in which parents and guardians could marry off their young daughters.

However, he he did not say that the practice would be banned.



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