msnbc.com
updated 4/22/2010 5:44:55 PM ET 2010-04-22T21:44:55

The case of a 12-year-old Saudi Arabian girl who successfully won a divorce from her 80-year-old husband could prompt the Arab kingdom to introduce a minimum marriage age, the Telegraph of London reports.

The girl was 11 when she was wed against her wishes to her father's cousin last year in an arranged marriage in her hometown of Buraidah, near the Saudi capital of Riyadh, the Telegraph reported Thursday. Her father was paid a $23,350 dowry.

The girl, with the help of a lawyer from the state-run Human Rights Commission, has been trying to get out of the marriage and took her case to court in Buraidah. She recently reached an agreement with her family, and the divorce will be settled privately rather than in the courts, the Telegraph reported.

Saudi Arabia has no minimum legal age for marriage and it is common in poorer, tribal areas for girls to be married off. However, it is rare for a child bride to challenge the match.

The case has prompted the Human Rights Commission to call for a legal minimum age of 16 in the kingdom. The commission and the Ministry of Justice will issue new guidelines after hearing from medical experts, child psychologists and scholars of Islamic law.

"The main aim is to not allow cases like this to happen again," Alanoud al-Hejailan, a lawyer for the commission, told the Telegraph.

"There will be some opposition, of course, but we feel that public opinion has changed on this issue. We want to gather all the public support we can for a minimum age for marriage."

The case has been hotly debated in Saudi Arabia, with some judges and clerics citing the Prophet Muhammad's marriage to a 9-year-old as justification for child brides.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Manie, a senior Saudi cleric, earlier this year slammed the comparison, saying the prophet's marriage occurred centuries ago and could not be used to justify marriages today.

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