Shighar Marriages and Minors in Saudi Arabia

A case of “shighar” marriage gained a lot of media attention lately. Part of the unfortunate arrangement has been overturned by the courts and an 11 year old child’s marriage to a 75 year old man has been ended.

Shighar marriages are “exchanges”, where one bride and her dowry are exchanged for another bride and her dowry. For example, a father will marry the daughter /sister of an acquaintance and in exchange the acquaintance will marry his daughter/sister. These marriages are Islamically illegal as the marriages are contingent not just on their own contracts, but also the implementation of another marriage contract (see my previous posts on marriages in Islam and types of marriages in KSA). These transactions are effectively a barter of children rather than being real marriages between consenting adults.

What is unsettling about the court ruling is that it is unclear if the ruling was based on the type of marriage (shighar) or on the fact that the minors involved were 11 and 16 years old.

This question comes to mind as not too long ago the marriage of an 8 year old to a 47 year old man was NOT overturned by Saudi courts (Saudi news states the groom’s age as 58). This particular marriage was not a shighar marriage however it was done to pay off the father’s debt to his 47 (58 ) year old friend. In this case the child, currently unaware that she is even married, will make the decision when she reaches puberty.

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2 Responses

  1. Here’s a Child Marriage Case in the US, that’s clearly a shighar marriage, though the participants aren’t Muslim, or even Arab.

  2. John, as far as I know, a shighar marriage requires two brides for two reciprocal/barter marriages. The US case sounds like a case of a marriage of a minor with a rather odd bride price. The media is sensationalizing it as “father sold daughter” even though the custom of setting a bride price is prevalent in many cultures.

    P.S. bride price and mahr are also different because mahr is for the woman while bride price is for the family of the woman

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