"I was playing out in the street when they came and brought me to see this strange man and..."
My MIL estimates that she was probably around 11 years old when she was married off to her husband, a man 20 some years her senior (we never did know exactly how old my FIL was, God rest his soul). She claims that she hadn't even started menstruating yet, as once a girl hits puberty she can no longer play "out" in the street. The woman he'd been married to passed away suddenly and at the wake, his uncle came to comfort his grieving nephew.
"Why don't you marry my daughter", he offered to him. The man felt in his heart of hearts that having a new wife would ease his nephew's suffering as well as provide his daughter with a husband he knew and trusted. And so, my MIL was married off to my FIL.
As was common in those days, a new bride did not become the managing force in her household but rather, she became a part of her new husband's family's home. His mother was the matron and called all the shots. She was expected to be an apprentice to her husband's mother, bear the children and eventually, after her MIL became old and infirm, she would take over the managing the household.
More than likely due to the strain on my MIL's yet undeveloped body, her first 3 children died immediately, within a day or so, after birth. Although in the days "before oil" the infant mortality rate was astounding, 3 in a row would be tough! She was probably not even in her mid-teens before her first living child was born, at home, as were all the children at that time. After having lost 3 children in a row, they didn't take ANY chances with this one. Believing that someone had given them an "eye" resulting in their babies deaths, they hid the newest baby for over a year and didn't announce the delivery to anyone outside of the family. As a result, my husband's oldest brother didn't get circumcised until he was around 8 or 9 years old as well as never discovering exactly what his age is.
Such was life, back in those days. Both my MIL and FIL were illiterate and had to work hard for everything they had. My FIL was a manual laborer and worked various unskilled jobs throughout his life, jobs that S.E. Asian workers now do for less pay. There were no other options for girls back then; they were destined to become wives and mothers. Education for men was only available to the elite and the clergy in the past and upon attaining puberty, a girl was ready for the next stage in her life: marriage. There wasn't any thing else.
These days it's unheard of for a man to marry an 11 year-old girl in Saudia and attitudes have changed towards young marriage. Although you will hear of the occasional 14 year-old getting married, it's a rarity and teenage pregnancy rates in the west are probably higher than the rate of Saudi girls the same age marrying. Even marrying in high school is becoming more infrequent with every successive year. Some become engaged in the last year or so of high school or immediately after graduation. Many young women now are trying to finish university and get a year or two in working before marrying.
Occasionally, especially during exam times, I hear comments from some of the older women. "I don't see why they're killing themselves with all this studying for university when they're just going to get married and stay at home with the kids."