By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SANA’A, Yemen – Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) released its 54 page report “How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen” to urge Yemen to ban marriage for girls under the age of eighteen. This age floor would improve educational opportunities for girls and protect their human rights. Child marriage in poor Arab countries preserves females’ status as second-class citizens and jeopardizes girls’ health.
Presently, Yemen does not have a legal minimum age for marriage. In 2009, the Yemeni government presented a bill to set seventeen as the minimum age for marriage. Arguing the proposed law conflicted with Islamic law, a group of conservative Yemeni lawmakers stopped the bill’s passage. Several countries who follow Islamic law have instituted the age of eighteen as the marriage age minimum.
Yemeni demonstrators called for reforms such as guaranteed gender equality in recent months. HRW advocates the government should place banning child marriage as a reform priority.
Data from the United Nations and the Yemeni government indicate eight-year-old girls were married, and some of their husbands engaged in martial rape and domestic abuse. Often, these child brides forcibly marry much older men. Last year, a nine-year-old wife published her account of marrying a man three times her age. A thirteen-year-old also died after having sex with her husband twice her age that caused internal bleeding. Boys are rarely subjected to child marriages.
Nadya Khalife, HRW’s women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa and the report’s author, stated “Girls should not be forced to be wives and mothers…The government…needs to show that it has the political will to do this by adopting this law.”
The girls’ families force them to marry. These new brides do not control their lives or childbearing decisions.
While fifty-two percent of girls are married before the age of eighteen, about fourteen percent of Yemeni girls wed before the age of fifteen. Once these future child brides reach puberty, they usually do not attend school. The young child bearing age associated with early marriage results in lasting reproductive health issues.
One of the thirty girls interviewed testified, “I reached sixth grade, and left school to get married. Now, when I see my daughter, I say to myself, ‘Who’s going to teach her?’ Because I can’t. I understood [the value of education] when I got older.” Another girl said, “My father insisted that I get married. I wanted to go to college, to become a lawyer, but there’s no chance now because I’m going to have a baby.”
For further information, please see:
CBC News – Yemen Child Marriages Targeted By Rights Groups – 8 Dec 2011
Human Rights Watch – Yemen: Child Marriage Spurs Abuse of Girls and Women – 8 Dec 2011
Reuters – Rights Group Urges Yemen To Ban Child Marriage – 8 Dec 2011
Taiwan News – Rights Group Urges Yemen To Ban Child Marriage – 8 Dec 2011