MUSCAT // Omani parents who demand high dowries will no longer have the last word on who can marry their daughters, thanks to a royal decree issued yesterday by Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The decree allows women to file a petition straight to the office of the sultan if their parents do not allow them to marry their own choice of husband. The sultan was apparently prompted to issue the decree after women complained.
Many parents, according to judicial experts, use the court of law to prevent their daughters from marrying, with reasons ranging from demands for high dowries to getting married to a man within the family clan. Lutfi al Rashdi, a lawyer at Salmi Legal Consultancy in Muscat, said: "What the royal decree basically means is that if the court rules in favour of the parents, then the girl can appeal straight to the sultan and the judgment can be overruled, depending on the circumstances."
Marriage counsellors say a typical dowry for the hand in marriage of an Omani woman can be as high as 10,000 rials (Dh96,000) in cash, and expensive jewellery that costs several thousand rials more. "If the boy cannot pay that, then the woman is not allowed to marry him. It all boils down to pure greed. In other words, daughters are sold off to the highest bidder," said Fatma Fallahy, 74, a marriage counsellor in Muscat.
Moreover, with a growing number of young women receiving higher education, parents refuse to let their daughters go because they bring in a useful income when they go to work, according to Ms Fallahy. "Women are also used as a source of income by ageing parents. Imagine having three working daughters and the money the father will miss out on if they all get married," she said. Many Omani women welcomed the decree. Salima Khair, 31, a divorcee working at Bank Muscat as a software engineer, wished it was issued seven years earlier so she could have married her sweetheart.
"My father forced me to marry a rich man's son and not the love of my life. I got divorced five years later because I didn't love him. I am happy for other women that there's now a solution, but it is too late for me," Ms Khair said. Rahma Alawi, 38, a headmistress at a government school in Muscat, is still looking for a husband because her father rejected all her suitors as they were unable to pay the dowry he had demanded.
"As they say in my village, I am an overripe mango that has fallen on the dust for being too long on the branch, which now can't find the market, thanks to my greedy father," Ms Alawi said. But few Omani women are bold enough to challenge their parents to marry their sweethearts. In those rare cases, courts have been sympathetic to the women and overruled the demands of the father. However, there may be a price to pay. Nada al Toki, 28, a nurse in a government hospital, said: "I guess I was lucky to find a judge who understood my situation. But four years after getting married without the consent of my father, I am still not on speaking terms with my parents."