Yemen: End early marriages through enactment of law enforcing a minimum age of marriage

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Date: 
1 Nov 2009

On 11 September 2009, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12-year-old Yemeni girl married to a 25-year-old, farmer died in childbirth after 3 days of painful labor resulting in a stillbirth at al-Zahra district hospital in Hodeida province in Yemen. The previous year, Fawziya’s father had pulled her out of school and married her at the age of 11.

Asghan M.S., now 14 years old, was married when she was 12. After spending one week in her husband's home in a village called Al Mujoud, she ran away to her parents’ home. Her family reached a compromise with her husband whereby Asghan would return to him in two years. On reaching 14, Asghan was forcibly returned to her husband by her father. In September 2009, she ran away again to her uncle's house in Taiz. Asghan’s father threatened to kill her and to divorce her mother in order to put pressure on Asghan to return to her husband. However, due to the intervention of Seyaj, a Yemeni children’s rights organization, the governorate in Taiz interceded in the case and prevailed upon the father to agree to let Asghan reside with her family until she turns 17. Although intervention by the governorate in Asghan’s case is a welcome step, this is not a solution for all cases of child marriage.

The cases of Fawziya and Asghan are only two examples of child marriages in Yemen, where there is no minimum age of marriage. Last year’s highly publicized case of 10-year-old Nujood Ali, who went to the court to ask for a divorce after being regularly beaten and raped by her adult husband, resulted in Nujood being granted a divorce only when compensation was paid to the husband. While Nujood’s case encouraged other child brides to come forward to ask for termination of their marriages, the Yemeni government has failed to act to prevent such early marriages from taking place by banning them outright.

Research shows that the average age of marriage for girls in rural areas of Yemen is around 12 or 13 and up to fifty percent of all Yemeni girls are married before they reach the age of 18 years. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have underscored the severe negative physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications of child marriage on girls. Child marriage violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse. It marks an abrupt and violent initiation into sexual relations, often with a husband who is a considerably older adult and a relative stranger. According to UNICEF, girls who give birth before 15 years of age are five times more likely to die in labor than women in their 20s and the extremely high maternal mortality rate of 430 per 100,000 live births in Yemen can be attributed in part to early marriage. Other health related impacts of early marriage and pregnancy identified by the World Health Organization include septic abortion, still births, pregnancy-induced hypertension, puerperal sepsis and obstetric fistula. Early marriage also jeopardizes girls’ right to formal education, which ends upon marriage. In addition, the Population Council has found that married girls have few social connections, restricted mobility, limited control over resources and little or no power in their new households, and that domestic violence is common in child marriages.

Yemen has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In addition, Article 6 of the Yemeni Constitution confirms its adherence to international law. Article 1 of the CRC defines the child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years.” Article 16(2) of CEDAW states that the “betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.” In its general recommendation no. 4 on adolescent health and development, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body responsible for monitoring state compliance with the CRC, has found early marriage to be a harmful traditional practice that negatively affects girls’ sexual and reproductive health. The CRC requires states parties to take all measures to abolish such traditional practices (Article 24(3)) and to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (Article 34).

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, tasked with monitoring state compliance with CEDAW, in its examination of Yemen’s report in 2008, expressed deep concern “at the ‘legality’ of such early marriages of girl children, some as young as eight years of age, which amounts to violence against them, creates a serious health risk for those girls and also prevents them from completing their education.” It called on Yemen to “take urgent legislative measures to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls, in line with [the CRC and CEDAW;] . . .enforce the requirement to register all marriages in order to monitor their legality and the strict prohibition of early marriages as well as to prosecute the perpetrators violating such provisions[; and] . . .develop awareness-raising campaigns, with the support of civil society organizations and religious authorities, on the negative effects of early marriage on the wellbeing, health and education of girls . . . .”

Yemen has not defined a minimum age for marriage. Women’s and children’s rights organizations in Yemen have been working tirelessly on this issue. The National Commission for Women (NCW) and the Higher Council for Motherhood and Children, both governmental organizations, have proposed amendments to the current law defining 18 years as the minimum age of marriage and providing penalties and fines for those who violate this provision. The proposal from the NCW includes a provision for registration of marriages with a fine for violation, which would serve, among other things, as a means of enforcing the minimum age of marriage. None of these bills has been passed, due to opposition from conservative parliamentarians. Instead, the Parliament’s Health Committee is seeking a medical opinion from the Ministry of Public Health and Population regarding an appropriate minimum age of marriage for girls. It should be noted that many countries, including those with legal systems similar to that of Yemen, such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey, have instituted 18 years as a minimum age of marriage and other countries are also in the process of doing so.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Yemeni President, Minister of Justice and the Speaker of the House asking them to ensure the swift passage of a law which provides for a minimum age of marriage of 18 years with appropriate penalties for violation of this law. Call upon them also to ensure effective enforcement of this law, once passed, including through mandatory registration of all marriages. Please also write to the Minister of Public Health and Population and urge him to ensure that the Ministry of Health endorses 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in accordance with Yemen’s obligations under international law. Letters should go to:

General Ali Abdullah Saleh
President of the Republic of Yemen
President Residence
60 Street
Sana’a, Yemen
Fax: +967 1 274 147

Mr. Ghazi Al Ghabari
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice Justice Street
Sana’a, Yemen
Fax: +967 1 252 138
Tel: +967 1 252 136/7/9

Mr. Yahya Ali Al Raei
Speaker of the House
Yemeni Parliament
26 September Street
Sana’a, Yemen
Fax: +967 1 276 091
Email: info@yemenparliament.org

Prof. Dr. Abdul Karim Yehia Rasa
Minister of Public Health and Population
Ministry of Public Health and Population
El Hisbah Directorate
Sana’a, Yemen
Tel:- +967 1 252 241
Fax: +967 1 252 247
Email: akrasae@yahoo.com

 

Letters: 

Sample Letter President/Minister of Justice/Speaker of the House:

[Date]

[Dear President/Minister of Justice/Speaker of the House],

I am writing to express my deep concern about the issue of early marriage in Yemen following the death of Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12 year old girl who was pulled out of school in 2008 and married to an older man when she was 11 years old. After 3 days of painful labor she died in childbirth and her baby was stillborn. In another case, a 14 year old girl called Asghan was married when she was 12 years old and has twice run back to her family from her husband’s house. Her father threatened to kill her and divorce her mother in order to put pressure on Asghan to return to her husband and Asghan was only given a reprieve to stay with her family till she is 17 years old after the intervention of the Taiz governorate. Girls such as these and many others need the help of the government so they can continue to enjoy their childhoods. I understand that up to 50% of all Yemeni girls are married before the age of eighteen.

International organizations such as World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNFPA have underscored the negative physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications of child marriage on girls, including death due to early pregnancy and deprivation of education. I urge you to take urgent action to ensure that Yemen passes a law setting 18 years as a minimum age of marriage in line with Yemen’s international commitments, and to ensure effective enforcement of this law, including by requiring that all marriages are registered and prosecuting and punishing all those who violate the law.

I thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,

_________________________

 

Sample Letter Minister of Public Health and Population:

Prof. Dr. Abdul Karim Yehia Rasae
Minister of Public Health and Population
Ministry of Public Health and Population
El Hisbah Directorate
Sana’a, Yemen
Fax: +967 1 252 247
akrasae@yahoo.com

Dear Minister,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the issue of early marriage in Yemen following the death of Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12 year old who was pulled out of school last year and married to an older man when she was 11 years old. After 3 days of painful labor she died in childbirth and her baby was stillborn. I understand that up to 50% of all Yemeni girls are married before the age of eighteen.

UNICEF and UNFPA have underscored the negative physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications of child marriage on children and pointed out that it is a violation of their human rights. Early pregnancy is a leading cause of death among girls. Early marriage also deprives a girl of education and severely jeopardizes her right to mental, emotional and physical well-being. According to the World Health Organization and UNFPA, early marriage can lead to numerous negative medical outcomes for both mother and child, such as low birth weight, preterm labor, stillbirths, perinatal deaths, pregnancy-induced hypertension, puerperal sepsis, septic abortion and obstetric fistula, and a resulting high rate of maternal and child mortality.

It has come to my attention that Parliament has asked your ministry for advice on establishing a minimum age of marriage. I urge you to follow internationally recognized standards, including those in instruments ratified by Yemen, and recommend 18 years as the minimum age for marriage in Yemen.

I thank you for your attention.

Sincerely yours,