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Child bride "divorced"

RIYADH — A man who signed a marriage contract to wed an 8-year-old girl has agreed to legally divorce the child following widespread condemnation by Saudis of the agreement, according to Saudi press reports.

The case drew international attention after a Saudi judge in Onaiza twice refused to annul the marriage contract, which the father of the girl concluded with his 47-year-old friend in order to pay off a debt.

The judge had also ordered the man not to have sexual relations with the girl, who is still living with her mother, until she became 18. He also said she could ask for a divorce once she reached puberty.

Despite those judicial restrictions, the case highlighted the problem of underage marriage, particularly of girls, in Saudi society. Although many Saudis favor social reforms, others want to keep traditional and tribal customs such as early marriage.

According to a report in the Saudi paper Al Hayat, the 47-year-old man agreed to voluntarily break the contract after a request by the governor of Qassim Province, Prince Faisal bin Bandar.

He also agreed to forgo repayment of the $8,000 marriage dowry he paid for the girl, the Saudi Gazette reported.

Onaiza is a major city in Qassim Province, which is north of Riyadh.