NEW DELHI, India – On Wednesday, October 11th, the Indian Supreme court ruled that any sexual relationship between a man and his wife between the age of 15 and 18 is a crime. The country’s highest court changed the rape law and declared that sex with an underage wife is an illegal act. According to the Indian Supreme court, the committed offense must be reported by the wife within a year.
Under the current law, the legal age of consent and marriage is 18. In the rural parts of the country, child marriages are not uncommon. Currently, there are more than 26 million child brides in India according to the United Nation’s children agency. Based on the agency’s report, between 2008 and 2014, more than 47% of the girls were married before their 18th birthday. Furthermore, an estimated 18 percent of the girls were married by the age of 15. It is reported that most of the girls were from poor families with little education.
Previous Indian governments have defended the law as they believed the country’s poor social and economic conditions have made child marriage an unfortunate reality. Moreover, early marriage has been a part of the Indian culture though the “guana” ceremony.
Many activists around the country praised the recent decision as a “positive step in the right direction.” A member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association recently stated that “we strongly feel that this decision of the Supreme Court will work in impacting child marriages.”
Although activists still believe that the Indian Supreme Court’s decision is difficult to enforce, many agree that it will have long-lasting consequences.
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.”
By Brandon Kaufman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SANAA, Yemen– A number of Yemen’s most influential clerics issued a decree on Sunday calling supporters of a ban on child brides to be apostates. It is believed that the religious decree will deeply hurt efforts to salvage legislation that would make it illegal for individuals under the age of 17 to marry.
Currently in Yemen, the practice of having child brides is quite prevalent, due in large part to the country’s extreme poverty. In many cases, it is tough for families to pass up on child bride prices which can easily run into the hundreds of dollars.
Last year, the Social Affairs Ministry of Yemen published a report saying that more than a quarter of Yemen’s females marry before age 15. In February of 2009, a new law set the minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed and sent back to the legislature for review after a number of lawmakers called the bill un-Islamic. A final decision on the legislation is believed to be forthcoming next month.
One of the clerics behind the decree is Sheik Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, one of Yemen’s most influential clerics and one whom the United States has said is a spiritual mentor of Osama bin Laden. Yet, since Yemen is currently in a fragile situation as a nation, many government officials are reluctant to challenge al-Zindani and other influential clerics for fear of losing power.
The clerics organized a protest against the legislation on Sunday by a group of women. One of the protestors, a woman in a black veil and face robes, carried a sign that read “Yes to the Islamic rights of women.” Another woman at the protest said “I was married at 15 and have many children now. And I will marry my daughter at the same age if I decide she is ready for it.”
Child brides has been a contentious debate in Yemen starting three years when an 8 year old girl in Yemen courageously went by herself to a courtroom and demanded that the judge dissolve her marriage to a man in his 30’s. The judge ultimately annulled the marriage and since that time legislators have been looking for ways to curb the practice of child brides.