A Saudi mother is expected to appeal a judge’s ruling after he once again refused to let her 8-year-old daughter divorce a 47-year-old man, a relative said.
Sheikh Habib Al-Habib made the ruling Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza. Late last year, he rejected a petition to annul the marriage.
The case, which has drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, came to light in December when Al-Habib declined to annul the marriage on a legal technicality. His dismissal of the mother’s petition sparked outrage and made headlines around the world.
The judge said the mother, who is separated from the girl’s father, was not the legal guardian and therefore could not represent her daughter, the mother’s lawyer, Abdullah al-Jutaili, said at the time.
The girl’s husband pledged not to consummate the marriage until the girl reaches puberty, according to al-Jutaili, who added that the girl’s father arranged the marriage to settle his debts with the man, who is considered “a close friend.”
In March, an appeals court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh declined to certify the original ruling, in essence rejecting al-Habib’s verdict, and sent the case back to al-Habib for reconsideration.
Under the Saudi legal process, the appeals court ruling meant that the marriage was still in effect, but that a challenge to the marriage was still ongoing.
The relative, who said the girl’s mother will continue to pursue a divorce, told CNN the judge “stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty.”
The appeals court in Riyadh will take up the case again and a hearing is scheduled for next month, according to the relative.
Child marriages have made news in Saudi Arabia in the past year.
In a statement issued shortly after the original verdict, the Society of Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia said the judge’s decision went against children’s “basic rights.”
Marrying children makes them “lose their sense of security and safety,” the group said. “Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression.”
Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government-run group, told CNN that his organization was fighting child marriages.
“Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed,” al-Harithi said.
Child marriage is not unusual, said Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabian researcher for the international group Human Rights Watch, after the initial verdict.
“We’ve been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men,”