Child marriage is a widespread practice in Yemen, especially in the rural areas. The story of the death of an eight-year-old child bride puts this serious issue under the spotlight.
In a 2011 Human Rights Watch report, “How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?” quoting a nationally representative survey conducted by the Yemeni government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2006, 52% of all young girls are married before age 18. About 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15. A 2005 study by Sana’a University noted that, in some rural areas, girls as young as eight are married. The main underlying cause for child marriage in Yemen is poverty. Fathers tend to pull their young girls from school and often marry them to elder men for a generous dowry in order to provide for rest of the family.
Nujood Ali, aged 10, made headlines in 2008 as the world's youngest divorcee, after escaping marriage to a man who bought her as a child bride at the age of nine. Today Nujood is 15, living with her elder brother as her father used proceeds from her book deal, intended to secure her education, to marry twice and arranged a marriage for her younger sister. Read more about her ordeal here.
At 10 years old, Arwa had already been married and divorced. Her case sparked a nationwide debate about child marriage in 2009.
(Video uploaded by Journeyman Pictures)
Last week, another Yemeni child bride, an 8 year old, made headlines as she reportedly tragically died after bleeding to death on her wedding night to a 40 year old “Saudi’ man.
There was an wide international outrage as this story broke out in the media:
Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth tweeted:
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) September 15, 2013
Human Rights Watch urged Yemen's transitional government to set the marriage age to 18 in drafting the new constitutions order to save the childhood and lives of many girls.
(Video uploaded to YouTube by Human Rights Watch)
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, statement
demanded Yemen to ban child marriage:
“I am appalled by reports of the death of an 8 year old Yemeni girl from serious injuries, including internal bleeding, sustained on her wedding night. I urge the Yemeni authorities to investigate this case without delay and to prosecute all those responsible for this crime.
New York columnist Nicholas Kristof also shared the story via Twitter:
An 8-yr-old girl in Yemen dies of internal injuries after being forced to marry a 40-yr-old man http://t.co/VFE9pZXvGk
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) September 9, 2013
Celebrity Mia Farrow tweeted a message to Yemen's government:
After death of 8-yr-old ‘bride’ on wedding night, it should be clear to Yemen, they must end child marriage NOW http://t.co/RPNNnlVKEl
— mia farrow (@MiaFarrow) September 15, 2013
CNN correspondent and anchor Jim Clancy tweeted in dismay:
— Jim Clancy (@clancycnn) September 10, 2013
Angham, a Yemeni living in Washington D.C wondered:
— Anغam ♫ (@LevantMelodies) September 16, 2013
Yemen's prominent cleric Al Habib al-Jafri noted:
— علي الجفري (@alhabibali) September 12, 2013
We should all work hard to stop the trafficking farce of young girls under the guise of marriage http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=626378434068807&set=a.222106194496035.59084.196704400369548&type=1 … pic.twitter.com/1zZ2y8p1b5
In a follow up note on Facebook, he urged the government of Yemen and all governments in Arab and Islamic countries that do not have laws to prevent crimes violating children's innocence, by turning them into goods for sale in the market under a slave-coated marriage, to hasten to criminalize this heinous act and work hard to fight it through the legislative, judicial and executive authorities. And he also urged fellow clerks, scholars and preachers to abolish the practice, reminding them of their obligation to raise awareness about this issue.
The credibility of the tragic and controversial story of the death of the 8 year old has been debatable. Reporter Saeed Al Batati investigated the case in Gulf News and in this video. Regardless, whether this particular story is true or not, or if it is a cover up by the government, is besides the point. Child marriage is a major problem in Yemen which causes the death of many girls, during marriage and child birth – young victims whose stories do not make it to the headlines. This was not the first story and certainly will not be the last. The fact is that Yemen's government needs to stop child marriage.
Blogger Afrah Nasser tweeted:
I don't understand why it's questioned if the little bride's death true or not!! Just have a quick look at Yemen's rural areas & u'll know.
— Afrah Nasser (@Afrahnasser) September 15, 2013
Yemen's Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour also tweeted about the controversial case:
— Hooria Mashhour (@Hooria_Mashhour) September 15, 2013
Regardless of the contradictory news on the alleged death of Haradh child ,legislation to stop under aged girls marriage is needed#yemen
— Hooria Mashhour (@Hooria_Mashhour) September 15, 2013
The Human Rights minister also sent a letter to the head of Parliament to approve the minimum age of marriage in Yemen and to enforce the law. Vocal advocacy to ban child marriage and set the age limit for marriage has been a struggle in Yemen, long before the minister's appointment, but has been repeatedly opposed over the years by conservatives. In 1999 Yemen’s parliament, citing religious grounds, abolished article 15 of Yemen’s Personal Status Law, which set the minimum age for marriage for boys and girls at 15. In 2009, Yemen's parliament passed legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 17, but conservative parliamentarians rejected it too and the bill was never signed. Passing the law is an arduous and long process yet it is only the first step to win the battle. Its implementation will be the real challenge for Yemen.
Dr. Jamela Saleh Alraiby, Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population wrote a piece, last year, entitled The Suffering of Girls Must Stop
She points out:
Fighting to ban child marriage in Yemen is so difficult as it has religious, cultural and tribal roots, but this challenge gives us more strength to save our girls and to stop the violence they are exposed to, to assure that they have the means and tools to make their own decisions, and to ensure their participation in sustainable development.
My dream for girls is that they be empowered to be able to make their own decisions. …My dream is that every Yemeni girl has the chance to education and can live a safe life, not threatened by a forced marriage when she is only a child.
Yemen's government and the civil society need to collectively work on this issue. Passing a law setting the marriage age and implementing it by punishing those who break it, alleviating poverty and empowering girls by allowing them to complete their school education and work, countering religious fatwas through an aggressive awareness media campaign about the harm of child marriage, can save many lives in Yemen.