The Rationalization of Pedophilia: Child Marriage in the Arabian Peninsula
Across the Islamic World, one in seven girls marry before the age of 18.
But what if this status quo was to hide under layers of disingenuous religiosity and a tradition that still views women, and for the purpose of this article, girls, as commodities to be disposed of and exploited at men’s pleasure and leisure? How are we to disrupt centuries of institutionalized abuse when such abuse is conveniently being sanctioned, if not encouraged by a band of lunatic clerics crying out that God commanded all women to obey and submit to the will of their male guardian?
Maybe more to the point is how are we to disrupt a system that through manipulation and banditry claimed Islam scriptures to fit their ignominious world view, condemning girls to suffer unspeakable abuse by the hands of men three, four, five, six, seven times their age?
A video of a Yemeni wedding prompted much controversy this week on Twitter as it showcased an octogenarian marrying a 12-year-old schoolgirl … to the delight of both their families.
While we may gasp in horror and, I daresay, raging anger before such a barbaric spectacle, this reality is only too real and too common for any of us to comfort ourselves in the idea that such cases are but a rare cultural aberration.
They are not! And though it would be a lie to say that child-brides are the norm in Yemen, the practice itself continues to be rationalized and promoted as religiously lawful. Yemen here is only one of the many countries across the Arabian Peninsula, and to a great extent the Islamic world, that continues to excuse pedophilia by arguing God’s laws.
If Islam, the faith, should not be held accountable for the interpretations men have claimed to its name, it is most definitely our responsibility to drive such practice to extinction, notwithstanding the fact that no democratic improvement worth its mettle will ever truly manifest in this region without a complete review of women’s status and women’s rights.
In other words: We should not be bullied into silence on the off chance that we may upset a certain religious demographic; to do so would only serve to empower criminals.
Now, while child marriage is mainly driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys, a by-product of a religious tradition with roots that lie in Saudi Arabia, other factors have exacerbated the issue. The following info is from the site, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/yemen/.
- Armed conflict: Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Girls are increasingly being married off as a source of income as ongoing conflict drives them deeper into poverty and desperation. Child marriage is considered to reduce the cost of caring for girls and offer them better protection through husbands.
- Level of education: Many parents force girls to leave school when they reach puberty to help with household chores and prepare them for marriage. The median age of marriage is lower among women with no formal education and living in rural areas.
- Family honor: Some parents marry off their daughters to preserve family honor and to protect them from engaging in shameful behavior.
- Force: The U.N. Child Rights Committee has expressed concern that girls in conflict-affected communities are being forcibly married to members of the Ansar-al-Sharia armed group, as well as through “tourism” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
- Gender norms: Girls in Yemen live in a patriarchal, male-dominated society, and have little power to negotiate their own choices. Article 40 of the Personal Status Law requires a wife’s obedience to her husband and his consent to leave the home.
Yemen is not alone! Across the Islamic World one in seven girls marry before the age of 18.
In 2017, for example, Turkey made it legal for 12-year-olds to marry if their parents agree.
In Saudi Arabia child marriage has come to exemplify the brand of religious extremism the kingdom’s religious elite continues to sell to its morally catatonic flock.
In 2011 Ali Al Ahmed, a strong critic of the Saudi regime, wrote the following in the Guardian: “As with many pernicious practices, child marriage would not exist without tacit support and approval from the country’s leadership. Far from condemning child marriage, the Saudi monarchy itself has a long history of marrying very young girls.”
And: “Saudi Arabia has probably the highest number of child marriages in the Middle East and yet there has been almost no international outrage or objection directed at the practice.”
To the long litany of issues and crises the Greater Middle Eastern region faces, among them terrorism, priority should be given to ending child marriage. After all, the selling of children to the sexual whims of old depraved men is symptomatic of the very religious extremism that feeds terrorism.