It Is Time...to put an end to child brides in Saudi Arabia
Adar had been too excited to sleep the night before, and now it was catching up with her.
Despite all the activity – her aunts and cousins and her mother’s friends in beautiful dresses, the long tables of good-smelling food, the happy sounds of laughter – the nine year-old was finding it hard to stay awake.
“People will notice if I go to my room,” she thought, rubbing her tired eyes. “I will find some small, quiet place here to nap. Yes, a short nap, and then I will join the party again.”
Making sure no one was watching, Adar pulled back the cloth draped over the table and disappeared. It was nearly quiet in her little tent. Nearly quite and nearly dark, and Adar had no trouble making her small body fit under the round banquet table. For a time she listened to the old women above her talking, but she soon tired of their serious discussions on cooking and housemaids and men.
She shut her eyes. And she smiled.
In her mind, Adar replayed the excitement of the day. The new dress her mother had found for her, and the shoes. The flowers and the food. Her mother had even allowed Adar to wear her long, black hair piled high on her head like a crown rather than in the pony tail that made her head hurt while she was in school during the week.
It was, as her mother kept telling her, a big day.
Adar smiled again. A big day indeed! She was finally old enough to go to a party. And not just any party, a party in celebration of a wedding!
She’d been asking to go to one of her mother’s parties for as long as she could remember, but each time she’d asked, her father had said no. She was too young, he’d told her sternly. She belonged in her own room.
Then two weeks earlier, her father had walked into the small room where Adar was sitting with her favorite book, and asked if she wanted to go to a party. Adar had dropped her book and run to her father’s side, throwing her arms around his thick waist.
“Yes, Papa,” she’d cried happily. “I want to go to a party!”
Her father had laughed softly, and so had his cousin, Sayyid, who’d arrived earlier in the day with pretty tins of sweets for Adar and her mother.
“We must buy her a new dress,” Sayyid had said, patting the top of Adar’s head.
Ever since that day, there’d been activity in the house. People coming and going, Sayyid and other men meeting with her father, all sorts of people getting the house ready for the big day. Her mother had been busy too, making plans for lambs and chairs and other things that Adar didn’t understand.
And everyone, it seemed, was looking forward to Adar’s first party as much as she was. It was all anyone in her big extended family wanted to talk about.
Adar yawned again. She was too tired to think about anything now. And so, surrounded by the muffled noise of the women beyond her safe little haven, Adar dozed off.
“Adar, habiba, the party is over and it’s time.”
Adar opened her eyes. It was her mother. She looked sad.
“I’m sorry,” Adar said quickly, smoothing her new dress as she crawled out from under the table. “I didn’t mean to hurt you by falling sleep at your party.”
Her mother just shook her head slowly. “It’s time,” she said again.
Adar looked around. The room was quiet. Her aunts and cousins and all the other women had already left. Only her father and mother and Sayyid, remained.
“It’s time,” Adar’s father said.
“It’s time,” said Sayyid. Slowly he crossed the room to where Adar was standing. He stopped in front of her, and held out his hand. “It is time, " he repeated.
Confused, Adar looked over at her mother. Tears, big, wet tears were rolling down her mother’s face.
“You must,” Adar’s mother said softly. “This party was not mine, sweet daughter. It was yours.”
Adar’s mother paused and Adar’s nine year-old world slowly fell down around her.
She shook her head. Her mother nodded.
“You are now the bride of Sayyid,” she whispered. “You must go with him now. It is time.”
Saudi Arabia still does not enforce a minimum age for marriage, which means that - altho the story of Adar's wedding is fiction - her plight is much too real for many little Saudi girls.
It is time.
Time for the Kingdom to put a stop to forced child marriages. Time for fathers to stop making marriage contracts for their little girls. Time for the people of Saudi Arabia to honor their children - their innocence, their vulnerability and their future.
Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Issa continues to work toward a solution. Let's hope he comes up with one soon.
It Is Time.
How young is too young to take on the responsibilities of marriage? Is forced child marriage a better alternative than teen dating? What does forced child marriage say about the expectations of marriage itself?