By Rositta Liosi – EMTV Online
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world, and tribal custom in Yemeni society is dominant.
Girls are seen as an economic asset as marrying their daughters off brings in a dowry from the grooms family.
Over the last three years child marriage has been widely debated within Yemen and internationally.
Yahya Kodiesh, a journalist from Yemen, has recorded many instances of girls as young as 10 to 15 married off to older men. Kodiesh told Gulf News Yemen that ‘social norms as well as poverty are the main driving factors behind child marriage.’
In Yemeni culture, a larger dowry is given to the bride’s family when the age difference between the bride and the groom is quite significant; basically, the younger the bride and the older the groom, the larger the dowry will be.
Child marriage is widespread in Yemen; a girl can be as young as 2 years old when she is promised to a man, girls as young as a 12 are married off to men two to three times their age.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), Researcher, Belkis Wille, stated in an interview by HRW, that ‘over fifty per cent of girls are married before the age of eighteen, and in rural areas one even sees girl’s getting married at the age of eight.’
Under Yemeni law there is no legal minimum age for marriage.
In 2009, a draft law was established to set a minimum marriage age at 18, in accordance with international standards, and criminal sanctions put in place for anyone who tried to force a child into marriage.
However, the Sharia Legislative Committee objected to the draft law on the grounds that setting a minimum age for girls to marry is ‘un-islamic’. Neither the parliament nor the president took further steps to adopt the law thereafter.
In practice, a Yemeni girl is allowed to wed at any age, however the marriage is consummated when the girl is ‘mature’, in other words once a girl has reached adolescence. Moreover, marital rape is not recognised under Yemeni law.
In April 2008, Nujood Ali, a 10 year old girl who was married at the tender age of 8, successfully obtained a divorce because she had not yet reached puberty when her husband had sexual intercourse with her.
Nujood’s story made international headlines and shed light on the plight of child brides in Yemen.
Yemen has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world, according to the White Ribbon Alliance, 1 in 90 women die while giving birth.
According to Yemen’s Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood (SCMC), Assistant Secretary General, Fathia Mahammed, girls getting married at an early age are not ready to give birth.
“A girl’s body is not matured and developed at this stage, and this also leads not only to death, but also to other complications such as haemorrhaging.”
In 2009, Yemeni Organisation for Childhood Protection (Seyaj) confirmed the death of a 12 year old girl, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, on September 11, in Western Yemen, due to complications experienced during delivery (from The Telegraph).
There are many stories of Yemeni girls getting married at an age where most children have no idea of marriage. These girls have no voice, no choice and no access. They are bound by cultural norms and poverty and their future and childhood ends at marriage.