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Child brides: Will Saudi Arabia set age limit for marriage?

Saudi Arabia Justice Ministry is considering setting a minimum age for marriage. In 2009, Saudi courts refused to nullify the marriage of an 8-year old girl to a 58- year old man.

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Saudis women at a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, shopping mall in 2003. Saudi religious police patrol the malls, ensuring strict segregation of the sexes.

(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali/File)

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Saudi Arabia is edging closer to setting a minimum age for marriage, a Justice Ministry official was quoted as saying on Wednesday, following international criticism of cases of child brides.

"The ministry has adopted a clear stance on under-age marriages and the issue was raised to the regulators," Mohammed al-Babetein, head of the Justice Ministry's marriages department, was quoted as saying in the daily al-Madina newspaper.

"It supports setting unified regulations to deal with such practices, which will ensure the safety of young girls," he said.

Babetein said the ministry was still in discussions over what age the limit should be set at, al-Madina reported.

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Cases of child marriage, including brides as young as eight-years-old, have made headlines in local and international media in recent years, drawing heavy criticism against the conservative U.S. ally.

In 2010, the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated group, hired a lawyer to help a 12-year-old divorce her 80-year-old husband.

Activists at the time saw the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage.

In 2009 the Justice Minister said that there were plans to regulate the marriages of young girls after a court refused to nullify the marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a man 50 years her senior.

Last May the consultative Shoura Council, which advises the government on new laws, was reported in the local press as recommending the introduction of a minimum marriage age but there have been no concrete reports of further progress.

Human rights organization Amnesty International said the Saudi government had been saying for several years that it planned to introduce a minimum age for marriage.

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