RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's senior-most cleric said girls as young as 10 years old can be married, local media reported on Wednesday.
The powerful Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said in a speech late on Monday that Islamic Sharia law allows the practice of pre-teen girls getting married, and that critics of the practice were doing the girls "an injustice," reports said.
"We hear often in the media about the marriage of minors. We must know that Sharia law is not unjust for women," the cleric is quoted as saying.
"If it is said that a woman below 15 cannot be married, that is wrong. If a girl exceeds 10 or 12 then she is eligible for marriage, and whoever thinks she is too young, then he or she is wrong and has done her an injustice."
His comment came in the wake of several well-publicized cases of young girls being married to men sometimes old enough to be their great-grandfathers.
On Monday a court in Taif allowed an 11-year-old girl to separate from her 75-year-old husband after the girl's mother petitioned the court, according to a report in Okaz newspaper. The girl's father had arranged the marriage in exchange for a dowry, it said.
In December a Saudi court at Unayzah, 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Riyadh, rejected a plea to divorce an eight-year-old girl married off by her father to a man who is 58, saying the case should wait until the girl reaches puberty.
Saudi human rights groups are fighting the old practice of children being married off to much older men by their parents and seek to establish a legal minimum age for women to be married.