Child Marriage in Yemen
Child marriage in Yemen is a centuries-old human rights violation. Adults force young teenage girls to marry men decades older than them. Perhaps worse than the basic psychological harm of having to enter into marriage, child brides endure abuse and life-threatening situations. According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 4 million Yemeni girls are child brides and 1.4 million of these are under 15 years old. This practice needs to stop to protect young girls physically and emotionally. Banning child marriage in Yemen would allow young women to enjoy the human rights they deserve.
Physical Dangers of Child Marriage
Because they are so young, when these child brides experience intercourse or pregnancy, it often leads to physical complications. As Sarah Ferguson stated, “Child marriage increases a girl’s risk of violence and abuse and jeopardizes her health. Sometimes, it’s fatal.”
Loss of Education
Yemeni child brides also lose their education rights. A young girl with dreams and passion needs to endure a life of maturity and responsibility. Further, her husband and family expect her to know how to handle managing a household. In a 2018 CNN interview, a 12-year-old girl named Halima spoke out about how her father forced her sisters to get married and then pressured her to do the same. She spoke about how all of her friends’ families took them out of school to get married. Halima’s father also pushed her to ignore her desire and passion to become a physician.
The Government’s Failure to Protect Young Women
The government of Yemen has not been able to pass an effective civil agreement to curb child marriage. On February 11, 2009, the Parliament agreed to set the minimum age of marriage at 17. However, the Sharia Legislative Committee overruled that effort. In March 2010, the Parliament redrafted the bill; however, the Sharia Legislative Committee rejected it once again. When asked about why there is no minimum age limit for marriage, the Sharia Legislative Committee stated that having a minimum age for marriage is “un-Islamic.” Twelve years later, in 2022, there is still no minimum age for marriage in Yemen.
Financial Desperation Leads to Child Marriage
In addition to Sharia law, financial hardship also pushes families to resort to marrying off their daughters. Whether it is because they cannot afford to take care of their daughter or because they want to trade her off for a small amount of money, many parents turn to child marriage as a way to ease their financial situation. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Charlie Yaxley stated, “We are seeing a growing number of families resorting to harmful coping mechanisms such as begging, child labor, and marrying off children to survive.”
The Solution to Child Marriage
Child marriage in Yemen has been an issue for centuries, but currently, there are human rights advocates who are taking strong stands against it and its supporters. For example, UNICEF delivers life-saving services and supplies to Yemeni child brides. UNICEF also promotes awareness. It does this by sharing stories of young girls who have had to fight for their lives because of violent marriages.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are urging governments, including Yemen, to immediately take steps to eradicate the practice. Among other rights violations, they specifically argue that child marriage is a setback to women’s rights and the ability to receive an education.
There are also individual human rights advocates who have taken up the cause. Nada al-Ahdal is a Yemeni young woman who escaped child marriage. She created an online video about her story that went viral. After that, she founded the Nada Foundation with the prime minister of Yemen to support young women in child marriages. She also wrote a book published in several languages that advocates against the practice. Now based in London, she speaks around the world to encourage everyone to fight against the practice. In a 2021 IMIX story about her, she said, “I have met so many brave girls from across the world; Serbia, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Egypt. They are working so hard to change their communities. It’s not just their duty, it’s all of us, all of our duty.”
Looking Ahead: Advocacy Should Lead to Force Policy Change
As child brides, young, poor girls in Yemen are having their hopes, dreams and rights taken away from them. The practice results in physical and emotional abuse. Moreover, it also leads to spousal and maternal mortality. However, with the help of advocacy within and beyond Yemen, the Yemeni government should eventually glean the power to force effective change.
– Hayat Nagi
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