Return of dowry blocks 14-year-old Saudi girl's divorce from her 80-year-old husband

The 80-year-old husband of 14-year-old Noura Atain in the town of Al-Kadami has refused to grant her a divorce until the SR17,000 dowry he paid is returned.

Saudi Gazette Noura’s father, who took the money and said he spent it on a car, is reportedly unable to produce the sum. “I’ve agreed to the divorce so she can get her freedom back,” said father Shou’an Atain, “but he’s said he wants the dowry back otherwise he’ll complete the marriage procedures.”

Atain says he owns “nothing but a small car that wouldn’t fetch the amount of money required”.“I’m in a very bad way financially, and I’m asking charitable persons to help out and enable my daughter to get the divorce from the marriage she was forced into,” he said.(Forced into by whom? The father, of course)

Saudi Gazette reported late October that authorities in Al-Kadami had halted Noura’s marriage after her grandparents reported that she was married off against her will.

A town official intervened, and after “confirming the truth of the complaint” placed her in the care of her grandparents.
Noura herself told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that her father had “tricked her into going with him to a school for the eradication of illiteracy to receive her stipend for attendance”, where the marriage contract was completed against her will. She said she did not wish to get married, “particularly to a man as old as my grandfather”.

Her father denied at the time that he forced his daughter into the marriage, saying she gave her consent in the presence of witnesses and the “ma’dhoun” – an official licensed to certify marriage contracts. “The dowry was 17,000 riyals and 100 heads of sheep, and I bought a car,” he said.

Ahmad Al-Bahkali of the National Society for Human Rights in Jizan said it was opening an investigation into the ma’dhoun marriage official who conducted the union, and the judge who approved it.“No marriage can be declared legal without the bride’s consent and her taking receipt of the dowry,” Al-Bahkali said. “Girls and women are not to be viewed as commodities for sale because Almighty Allah has decreed they have the right to accept or reject a suitor.”

Rights activist and head of the Women’s Department at Prisoner Welfare in Jizan Aisha Shakir, meanwhile, has laid the blame for the marriage of minors at the doors of various authorities and organizations.
“It’s the lack of punishments that allows it to happen,” Shakir said. “All that happens is that we delve into these cases without arriving at any proper solutions to protect girls from the cruelty of their fathers.”

She pointed the finger at Social Affairs, Health Affairs, and ma’dhouns for failing to impose deterrents on parents that “force minors into marriage”. “Sometimes these marriages lead to suicide,” she said.

Shakir also proposed setting up a government hotline for people to report instances of child marriages, “to handle the cases, take the people who help them happen to task, and gather statistics”. “The Prisoner Welfare Committee has begun setting up a page on its website with daily messages to promote awareness of the rights of young girls and how to report such cases,” she said.