Yemen: End early marriages by enacting and enforcing a minimum age of marriage law

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1 Apr 2010

In the past month, Equality Now has been informed of a number of cases of young Yemeni girls who have undergone or been at risk of early and forced marriage which has left them subject to some of its many harmful consequences. 

  • In March 2010, 12 year old Sally Al-Sabahi, who was married at age 10 and beaten and raped repeatedly by her husband, was finally granted a divorce. 
  • In the same month, 11 year old Sarah, was found to have been imprisoned and chained by her father in an effort to force her into marriage. 
  • Also recently, 12 year old Salwa committed suicide by throwing herself from the roof of her house after being forced into marriage by her father.
  • Hind, 13 years of age who was married last year by her father and uncles to a 70 year old man, tried running away from her abuser but was caught by an uncle who kept her chained in the house for months. She was finally freed in March and has been taken in by a family who claim she is pregnant.
  • In April, Safiyeh, an 11 year old girl married to an older man, was hospitalized with injuries to her genitals caused during sexual intercourse. Due to the intervention of the Yemeni Women Union she has been granted a divorce and her father has agreed to send her to school.
  • Also in April, 13 year old Ilham died due to excessive bleeding caused by a tear to her genitals during sexual intercourse, three days after she was married to an older man.


Rally of Yemeni women outside Parliament.
Rally of Yemeni women outside Parliament. The banner reads: "18 years is the safe age for marriage"
In November 2009, Equality Now issued Women’s Action 34.1 calling on the Government of Yemen to prevent child marriages by enacting and enforcing a law establishing a minimum age of marriage. Our Action highlighted the case of Fawziya Abdullah Youssef who was married at 11 by her father to a 25-year-old man and died in childbirth a year later. We also highlighted the story of 12 year old Asghan M.S. who ran away from her husband’s house several times and was forcibly returned to him by her father. Through the intervention of the Yemeni child rights organization Seyaj, Asghan’s father agreed to let her reside at home until she turns 17. Stories like those of Sally, Sarah, Salwa, Hind, Safiyeh, Ilham, Fawziya and Asghan are common in Yemen where no legal minimum age of marriage exists.

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) both of which contain provisions against early marriage. The CEDAW Committee in 2008 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...”

In 2009, the Yemeni parliament considered a draft bill submitted by two government ministries with the backing of Yemeni women and children’s rights organizations that fixed the minimum age of marriage for girls at age 17 and included penalties and punishment for those in violation. However, the passage of the bill was blocked by conservatives in Parliament. The Yemeni parliament may consider this draft bill once again as early as May 2010, although there are indications this may be delayed. The bill is being actively opposed by conservative parliamentarians on the basis that fixing a minimum age of marriage contradicts Islam. In March 2010, some Yemeni Muslim leaders declared supporters of the bill to be apostates. To overcome this opposition, hundreds of women rallied outside Yemen’s parliament on 23 March in support of this bill. The Yemeni Women Union, along with other human rights organizations, met with the Speaker of the House and presented a petition as part of their one million signatures campaign in support of the proposed bill.

Equality Now supports the efforts of the Yemeni Women Union and other human rights organizations in calling upon the government of Yemen to live up to its obligations under international law and pass a law prohibiting early marriage so that girls are no longer forced to undergo the harmful physical and psychological effects of early marriage and motherhood. We also call on the government to effectively enforce such a law by making sure that violators are prosecuted and punished. We note that many other countries, including those with legal systems similar to those of Yemen, such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Jordan, Iraq, Malaysia, Morocco and Turkey, have instituted 18 years as a minimum age of marriage in accordance with the CRC and other countries are 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 that the early marriage bill is considered and passed by parliament as soon as possible. Call upon them also to ensure effective enforcement of this law, once passed, including through mandatory registration of all marriages and punishment for those in violation. TAKE ACTION!

Letters should be addressed to:

Mr. Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi
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

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