Yemen’s chance to set 18 as the minimum age of marriage, says Human Rights Watch

Yemen should protect its girls from the devastating effects of early marriage by setting 18 as the minimum age for marriage by law, Human Rights Watch, a member of Girls Not Brides, said today. The current political transition and drafting process for a new constitution offers a unique opportunity for the Yemeni government to enact laws protecting the rights of girls.

Human Rights Watch’s statement comes after a story emerged about an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who reportedly bled to death on her wedding night.

Recent UNICEF data shows that 11% of Yemeni girls are married before age 15, and 32% are married before age 18.

“Thousands of Yemeni girls have their childhood stolen and their futures destroyed because they are forced to marry too young,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Yemeni government should end this abusive practice.”

Human Rights Watch released a new video documenting the psychological and physical harm that child marriage causes to girls in Yemen.

I thought marriage was just a wedding, a party, and that would be it. I didn’t have any idea what marriage meant

Nadia, married at 13

“I thought marriage was just a wedding, a party, and that would be it. I didn’t have any idea what marriage meant”, recounts Nadia, married at age 13.

“When a girl marries before the age of 18, there are serious health problems like multiple miscarriages and life-threatening infections. We see it every day [at the hospital]”, explains a gynaecologist from Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.

“I’d advise any father, mother or brother not to rush to marry their girls like I did”, says a father who forced his daughter to marry at age 12.

“[Yemen’s] popular, peaceful revolution came about for the sake of fixing societal problems, not only political problems but also social problems, most importantly, child marriage”, said Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist who received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

There is no legal minimum age for girls to marry in Yemen and the only legal protection for girls is a prohibition on sexual intercourse until the age of puberty.

Many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa that, as in Yemen, recognise Sharia as a source of law have set the marriage age at 18 or higher.