Human Rights Watch: Child marriage spurs abuse of girls and women in Yemen

Widespread child marriage jeopardises Yemeni girls’ access to education, harms their health, and keeps them second-class citizens, Human Rights Watch, said in a report released on 8 December, 2011.

Human Rights Watch, a member of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, called on the government of Yemen to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

Based on field research in Yemen, including interviews with more than 30 child brides, the 54-page report, “‘How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?’: Child Marriage in Yemen,” documents the lifelong damage to girls who are forced to marry young. They said that marrying early had cut short their education, and some said they had been subjected to marital rape and domestic abuse.

A 16-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch: “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.”

Half of all women in Yemen are married as children

Yemen is one of the few countries in the world that has no legal minimum age for marriage. According to government and UN figures, 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, and 52 percent are married before they turn 18, often to much older men. In some rural areas, girls as young as 8 years old are forced into marriage.

“Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list,” said Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Yemeni Nobel Peace Laureate supports ban on child marriage

Tawakkol Karman, the Yemeni activist who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10, 2011, along with two Liberian women leaders for their work to advance women’s rights, has criticised the Yemeni government’s failure to ban child marriage. In an opinion piece published in 2010, Karman wrote, “There is a vast space in our Islamic Law heritage for reaching consensus on adopting the age of 18 as a minimum age for marriage.”

Yemen’s future government has a genuine opportunity to show its commitment to gender equality and to protecting the rights of all its citizens by addressing the issue, Human Rights Watch said.

The government should take steps legislatively to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and promote public awareness of the harm child marriage causes. The Yemeni government and its international donors should also boost girls’ and women’s access to education, reproductive health information and services, and protection from domestic violence.

“International donors invest millions of dollars on education and health reform in Yemen,” Khalife said. “Without a ban on child marriage, none of the international aid will prevent girls from being forced to leave school and from the health risks of child marriage.”