JEDDAH: Abdul Aziz Al-Fouzan, a member of the government’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), said the number of single Saudi women over the age of 32 is expected to grow to four million by 2015.The HRC estimates the number of spinsters (defined, says Al-Fouzan, as single women over the age of 32) to be at least 1.4 million.”This means that there is an unmarried woman among every 16 Saudi women,” he said in a recent lecture. “There are a variety of reasons behind this phenomenon including unemployment, a housing shortage and obsolete social traditions.”The number of single women in this age category is higher in the cities than in the countryside, he added. He, however, cautioned against assuming marrying girls is the cure for the problem.Currently being debated in the Kingdom is the issue of limiting marriages of minors — defined as anyone under the age of 18 — to address the issue of girls being married off to old men, in some cases so that fathers can settle debts or lay claim to dowries.
“Marrying an underage girl to an old man is a crime,” said Al-Fouzan. “People should not find an excuse in the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Sayidah Ayesha,” he said, referring to the Prophet’s youngest wife.Al-Fouzan urged men to find wives closer to their age. “This would help reduce the number of unmarried women,” he said.In some cases women, especially employed women, are prevented from getting married by their fathers, who deny them permission to get married out of concern of losing the household income. Some cases brought up by women against their fathers for this practice (called adhal, the act of a parent unjustifiably denying a daughter the right to marriage) has reached Saudi courts in the past.The estimate of unmarried women over the age of 32 was made by Ali Al-Zahrani, a staff member of King Abdul Aziz University, who said the number could currently be as high as 1.5 million, with Makkah province (which includes Jeddah) having the highest number of single women over 32 out of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces.In a related development, the Shoura Council recently discussed regulating the marriage of Saudi men to non-Saudi women and vice versa. In those discussions, some participants said that the rising number of Saudi men marrying non-Saudi women is also contributing to the rise of single Saudi women – Arabnews