Marriage at an early age

Q). I have a nine year-old girl who is married to a person at the age of 20. The marriage contract was made a year ago but the girl is refusing to live with her husband or even to look at him. In addition to that she requires him to divorce her. Could you please advise me what to do? Should I separate them or force my daughter to live with him?

(Name and address withheld)

A). It is certainly possible for a father to get his daughter married to someone who he thinks is suitable for her. Whether he should force her into any marriage is something totally different Let me relate this to you: A woman companion of the Prophet came to him and said: "My father has married me away to one of his relatives without asking my opinion. I do not wish to stay with this man as his wife." The Prophet ordered their separation. When she realized that she was free and that she was no longer married to the man, she said to the Prophet: "I now accept what my father has done and I am marrying this man. I only did this so that women may know that it is not up to men to marry them away against their wishes."

Scholars have discussed at length the marriage of a young girl who has not attained puberty and whether her father may marry her away without her permission. If such a marriage takes place it is valid. However, it is perhaps best if the marriage is not allowed to be consummated until the girl attains puberty, when she is given the choice whether to continue with this marriage or not. Moreover her father may not marry her away to someone who is of a lesser status than hers. If he does and she objects, the marriage is not valid. Generally speaking, however. a girl must be asked to express her opinion in any proposed marriage. If she has been married before, then her verbal consent should be requested. If she has not been married previously, then her consent is also to be requested, but if she keeps quiet, her silence is taken as approval.

To say that the marriage is valid is not to say that people should go ahead and make such marriages. There may be certain circumstances, which make it desirable or advisable that a very young girl should be married away in this manner but this must not be taken as the normal situation. In marriage, the normal thing is that people should marry when they are of marriageable age. That does not include girls of nine or ten years of age, although some girls may attain puberty that early. Marriage involves certain responsibilities and a very young girl could not be expected to shoulder these. There are also other problems, which the may face, as she grows older. If things go wrong with her marriage, she will always blame her father for having messed up her life, well intentioned though he may be. If you take the example of your own daughter, and you force her to go and live with her husband despite her protestations, you will never be sure whether the marriage will work out well or not. If it does, then well and good. But there is an equal chance that problems may arise especially with your daughter behaving like the child she is. While her husband expects from her the attitude of a married woman. How could you expect her to overcome the feeling that she has been thrown into this situation without being allowed the slightest say in the whole matter which is to affect the rest of her life?

As we see it, your choice is either to get her divorced now, before the marriage is consummated or to keep her with you until she has attained puberty and she is in a position to express her opinion about this marriage. If she still objects to it, then you divorce her without any compulsion to go through with it. If, on the other hand, if she approves of this marriage, at that time, then you go ahead with it. Perhaps it is better for you to consult with the young man to whom you have already married her. He should be understanding and accommodating. Between the two of you should work out the best solution which ensures that he is not lumbered with marriage which is forced on a young girl who cannot be expected to give an opinion about such a matter.


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