The Onaiza Girl, Again

The Onaiza girl case is back to make headlines after the court there upheld its earlier verdict. Judge Habib Al-Habib’s original stipulated that the girl must reach the age of puberty before determining whether she would continue her marriage solemnized in June 2007. A relative of the girl told CNN that the judge “insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty.” The Court of Cassation had rejected the previous verdict and demanded that the case be reconsidered. But in Saturday’s hearing the judge stuck to his earlier verdict, after he failed to convince the husband to nullify the marriage contract in lieu of returning the dowry he paid.

I don’t understand the position of the judge. So he wanted the husband to nullify the marriage, but when the husband refused, he decided to stick to his earlier bizarre verdict? Anyways, I’m not surprised, especially when we remember that the Grand Mufti himself sees nothing wrong in marrying off girls who are 15 and younger. Sources told Saudi Gazette that if the elderly husband continues to refuse and the judge sticks to his verdict, the Court of Cassation will hand over the case to another judge. Let’s wait and see…

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Court of Embarrassment

Not so long ago, criticizing the judiciary was a taboo in this country. But with more people learning more about their rights and finding new outlets to express their dissatisfaction, they began to clearly show their impatience with the performance of the justice system. The system has become a battlefield between reformers who demanded change and conservatives who defended the judges fiercely, arguing that since their verdicts are based on Sharia then they should be unquestionable.

Luckily for the rest of us though, the complaints did not fall on deaf ears. In October 2007, King Abdullah announced a $2bn plan to overhaul the legal system. It is a large undertaking and it will certainly take a long time to see the effects of this plan. The resistance of the old guard in the system will only make this process slower and more difficult. But one of the good immediate effects of this plan is that it has placed the judges under increased scrutiny. The past two years have witnessed a number of high profile cases that attracted much attention from people and the media, not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world.

I think that last week’s case in Onaiza, where a court rejected a divorce petition filed by the mother of a an eight-year-old girl whose father married her to a 58-year-old man, should be seen in that context. Sure, the verdict is outrageous and unfair, but hey, this is the K of SA, a country where judges are not tied to written laws and justice is a subjective matter that pretty much depends on their whims. Does Sheikh Habib al-Habib know that his government has singed the international Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1996? I don’t think he does, and I think he does not care because such international laws are made by mere mortals while he probably believes that he is applying God’s laws.

Abdullah Al-Jutaili, the lawyer representing the girl’s divorced mother, said he was going to appeal the verdict. Let’s hope judges at the appeals court will be wiser than their colleague here when they deal with this case that not only exemplified the kind of injustices the people of this country have to go through when their misfortunate leads them to a court, but also further tarnished the already distorted image of Saudi Arabia in the world.