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|Wafa, child bride
The 2011 revolution in Yemen led to a change in government that women hoped would result in improved lives for them and their children. During the protests women played important roles, as evidenced by the awarding of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman for her "non violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." Despite their significant involvement in the revolution however, Yemeni women fear that their rights and participation in the decision-making process will continue to be marginalized and activists on the ground have relayed that key issues such as child marriage will not be considered a priority by the new government. A draft child marriage bill, introduced in Yemen’s parliament in 2009 that fixed a minimum marriage age for girls at 17 and prescribed penalties and punishment for violators, is still pending. Further discussion about the bill has been postponed, and it is unclear if and when this issue will be taken up.
Equality Now issued Women’s Action 34.1  (November 2009) and Action Update 34.2  (April 2010) calling on the Government of Yemen to prevent child marriages by enacting and enforcing a law establishing a minimum age of marriage. However, the draft anti-child marriage bill was effectively blocked by the parliament’s Shariah (Islamic law) Committee in October 2010 when it issued 15 pages of recommendations against a minimum age of marriage, arguing in part that early child-bearing prevents breast cancer.
- In 2010, Equality Now and our partner, Yemen Women Union (YWU), became involved in the case of "Wafa"  an 11-year-old girl who was married off to a 40-year-old farmer who repeatedly raped and tortured her. Equality Now and YWU were successful in arranging for a lawyer to take up her case and helped her to resume her education. A court in Hija province ultimately agreed to grant Wafa a divorce in 2011 on the condition that she pay back her dower - money her father had spent before he passed away. The absence of a law banning child marriage in Yemen meant that Wafa was legally married and unable to get out of the marriage without being subjected to the divorce requirements for women. A relative, acting under duress and threats from her husband’s family, borrowed money to repay the dower, but then forced her to drop out of school to beg on the streets. He also attempted to sexually abuse her and pressured her to marry him. Wafa is currently in temporary lodging in the YWU shelter and has resumed her education.
- Equality Now has also been following the case of another child bride who was featured in the media after she managed to get a divorce. Although hailed as a heroine in the international press, she is facing tremendous hardships, including being exploited in prostitution by her own relatives.
As these cases show, without a law banning child marriage, child brides remain at constant risk of exploitation and abuse. They are unable to obtain a divorce without the repayment of their dower and receive no redress post-divorce, other than being returned to the families that sold them off. The failure of the Yemeni government to stop child marriage, including through enactment of the proposed law, is a violation  of their international obligations under 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 child marriage.
Equality Now and YWU need your help to call upon the new government of Yemen to make the rights of women and girls a priority, to pass and enforce a law prohibiting child marriage, and to ensure the safety and human rights of child brides who have ended their marriages.
Contact the Yemeni President, Minister of Justice and the Speaker of the House and ask them to:
- Ensure that the draft bill banning child marriage is considered and passed by parliament as soon as possible.
- Ensure effective enforcement of this law once passed.
- Take measures to protect and promote the rights of girls who have ended or escaped child marriages, including by providing access to safe accommodation, education and counseling.
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Letters should be addressed to:
Mr. Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi
President of the Republic of Yemen
Fax: +967 1 276 866
Fax: +967 1 252 803
Tel: +967 1 621 062
Judge Mursd Al-Arshani
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Fax: +967 1 252 138
Tel: +967 1 334 334
Mr. Yahya Ali Al Raei
Speaker of the House
26 September Street
Fax: +967 1 276 091
Tel: +967 1 272 765
I am writing to express my deep concern about the prevalence of child marriage in Yemen and the inaction shown to date by the Yemeni government to ban this practice. Yemeni women’s role in the 2011 revolution that led to the formation of your new government was key. This is a time when Yemen needs the participation and support of all its citizens. Allowing child marriage, which sees up to fifty percent of Yemeni girls married before they reach the age of 18, means that Yemen is not nurturing its future.
In addition, international organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNFPA have underscored the negative physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and sexual implications of child marriage on girls, including septic abortion, still births, death due to early pregnancy, deprivation of education, few social connections, restricted mobility, limited control over resources, little or no power in their new households and increased risk of domestic violence.
I am aware that draft legislation fixing the minimum age of marriage for girls at age 17 with penalties and punishment for violators has been pending in parliament since 2009 and passing it without delay would be a first step to helping girls escape abuse and allowing them to fulfill their potential. The absence of a law banning child marriage in Yemen means that child brides have to resort to divorce laws for women to get out of their marriages (rather than having these marriages annulled as illegal) and are required to pay-back their dower to obtain a divorce. A case in point is 11-year-old Wafa who in 2009 was married off by her father to a 40-year-old farmer who raped, beat and tried to strangle her. Wishing to escape the abuse and continue her education, Wafa ran away from her husband’s house but was unable to get out of the marriage without paying back her dower which her father had spent before passing away.
Stopping child marriage is an international obligation of the Yemeni government under 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 the practice. Please ensure that the draft child marriage bill is considered and passed by parliament as soon as possible. Also, please ensure effective enforcement of this law, once passed and punishment for those in violation. In addition, please take measures to protect and promote the rights of girls who have ended or escaped child marriages, including by providing access to security, education and counseling.
I thank you for your attention.