Although Yemen has committed itself to eliminating the practice of marrying children through various international treaties and conventions, surveys done in 2006 by the Yemeni government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveal that 14 percent of its girls are married before they turn 15 and a staggering 52 percent are wed before they are 18 years old.
This is cited by a Human Rights Watch report entitled “How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?”: Child Marriage in Yemen released in December 2011. Child marriage is still a common practice up to this day with those in rural areas being married when they are 12 or 13, with some being wed as early as eight years old. In urban areas, the ages are slightly higher but most were still married before they turned 15 years old.
By not enforcing a clear minimum age for marriage and repealing the legal age for marriage in 1999, the Yemeni government basically failed to protect the children from arranged child marriages and the abuses that go along with it. The report found that young girls who are forced into arranged marriages suffer from marital rape, domestic abuse (as most girls live with their husband’s families), and reproductive health problems. Yemen has the highest incidences of maternal deaths in the region as child brides are apt to suffer from life-threatening obstructed labor because of their immature, underdeveloped pelvises.
Most of the officials of Yemen’s parliament agree that for the rights of young girls to be safeguarded, this should be the route to take. However, a group of powerful conservatives oppose the measure, citing that doing so would be against Islamic law.
Moreover, parents also perpetuate the practice. Doctor Abdulahafedh Al-Khameri, a psychologist at Sana’a University says: “A false impression is conveyed to girls that they are a financial, economic and social burden on their families; therefore, they often accept early marriages. Parents prefer early marriages because they fear waiting, so the family and daughter often accept them.”
Human Rights Watch researchers like Nadya Khalife and Yemeni activists call for concrete actions to address this issue despite the political troubles that the poorest country in the Middle East is facing: “Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list. But now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future.”
Human Rights Watch also urges international donors that give aid to Yemen to fund projects that address the needs of young victims of domestic abuse and advocate for programs that ensure that barriers to their education are removed to help address the issue.
Category: Women in the World