My dream is for every Yemeni girl to live a safe life, Deputy Minister tells UK parliamentarians

Dr Jamela Saleh Al-Raiby is Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population in Yemen. Credit: White Ribbon Alliance.

I come from Yemen where we have had a year of violence, and in some areas, civil war. Most of you will have heard about the violence in the media. A lot of efforts are being made by the international community to support Yemen to get out of the crisis.

But there are other types of violence affecting the Yemeni community – particularly for women and children. Child marriage is an extreme form of violence which strips girls from their basic human right: the right to live.

In Yemen, we lose many young girls, either from violent sex/rape, such as in the case of Elham Assi, a 13 year-old girl who bled to death after being forced to have intercourse with her 23-year old husband. Or from complications of early pregnancy and child birth, such as the case of Samah, a 12 year-old girl who lost her life while giving birth to a baby girl in a health facility. No-one could save her.

In other cases of difficult pregnancies or childbirth, many young girls suffer with life-long disabilities, such as fistula, and are rejected from their families as a result.

Many girls drop out of school when they are married young, thus losing their right to education and life skills needed to participate in the workforce – and the absence of their participation in economic development has consequences.

These are just a few recorded cases of child marriages in Yemen; but many are lost, not recognised or known. The suffering of girls must stop.

The WRA Yemen and the Ministry of Public Health and Population are working together, along with other developmental partners and NGOs for advocacy among the Parliamentarians to pass the safe age of marriage law. We are also focusing on youth and religious leaders to raise awareness so the whole community will be capable of asking for the safety of their girls and to pressure for the passage of this law.

We have other projects to ban child marriage as Gender Generation dialogue which support the decision to stop early marriage.

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.

Jamela Saleh Al-Raiby

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 own daughter Sara, who just finished high school, is 18 years old. A family asked that she marry their son, who she knows. She knew she was free to make her own decision, and she answered strongly that “It is too early and I want to finish my studies.” I am proud of her.

I want all girls in Yemen to have the same choice as my daughter did – to choose their own destiny, to make their decisions without any pressure and to not be controlled under the guise of “protection.”

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.

Read Girls Not Brides’ reflections on the UK All Party Parliamentary Group hearings on child marriage.