First Published: 2010-03-31

 
Yemen divided over under-age marriage
 

Some Yemeni women say Islam does not advocate child marriages, others say it is un-Islamic to set minimum age.

 

Middle East Online

Deep divisions © IRIN

SANAA - Hundreds of women clad in black `niqabs’ demonstrated in front of parliament in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on March 23. Some were waving banners with the words: “Yes to the Sharia [Islamic legal] rights of Muslim women”, while others raised the Koran above their heads.

“It is against Islam to set a minimum age for marriage,” said Zeinab al-Sunaidar, 27, a secretary from Iman University. “A girl can get married when she’s an adult - for some girls that is when they are 15 and for others when they are nine.”

The debate on early marriages has polarized Yemeni society. Some cite religious texts as a justification not to set a minimum age. Others say Islam does not advocate child marriages and that the negatives of children getting married far outweigh the positives.

What is the current legal age of marriage?

Prior to the unification of Yemen in 1990, the law set the minimum age of marriage at 16 in South Yemen and 15 in the north. After unification, the law was set at 15. In 1999, the civil status law was amended and the minimum age was abolished.

However, according to Shada Mohammed Nasser, an attorney at the Supreme Court who has worked on several child bride cases, the law stipulates that a girl should not sleep with her husband until she is mature. “But the law is not enforced,” said Nasser, citing the case of 12-year-old Sally al-Sabahi, who was married at the age of 10 and was divorced on 27 March.

How many marry under age in Yemen?

According to the Washington DC-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), 48 percent of girls are married when they are under 18. This, according to The Convention on the Rights of the Child which Yemen has signed and ratified, is “under age”.

In some governorates just over half of all girls marry under the age of 15, according to an unpublished 2007 study on early marriage by Sanaa University’s Gender Development Research and Study Centre.

What does the proposed law on minimum age advocate?

An amendment to the civil status law would impose a hefty fine and up to a year’s imprisonment for parents who marry off their daughters before the age of 17, or sons before 18.

The bill was brought before parliament in February 2009, where a majority voted for it. However, it was opposed by the Sharia Committee, so it was passed back to the parliament’s constitutional committee for review.

On March 21, several religious clerics issued a fatwa (decree) against a minimum age. However, parliament is set to vote on the bill again, but no specific date has been set.

Who is against the minimum age and why?

Much of the opposition has been voiced by conservative elements within the opposition party, Islah, and within the Sharia Committee, along with other religious institutions.

Those who oppose the bill cite the example of the marriage between the Prophet Mohammed and his second wife Aisha, who was said to be around nine at the time. “We view a child as mature when it reaches puberty, not when it’s 18,” said Sheikh Mohammed al-Hazmi, who is a member of the Yemeni parliament.

They also stress that sex outside marriage is adultery, according to Sharia. “We understand that young people are sexually active, but unlike in the West, they can marry here and not partake in immoral behaviour,” said al-Hazmi.

Who is for the minimum age and why?

Proponents of a minimum age say children are neither mentally nor physically ready to marry, let alone have children. "The greatest problem facing Yemeni women today is child marriages," said Wafa Ahmad Ali from the Yemeni Women’s Union. "These early marriages rob the girl of the right to a normal childhood and education.”

They also say children’s bodies are not mature enough to carry children. “I see a lot of complications because of early marriages,” said Sanaa-based gynaecologist Arwa Elrabee. “These marriages are only about suffering.”

Other critics say the younger a mother is when she starts to have children the more she is likely to have. Yemen’s population is growing at a rate of 3.2 percent a year, one of the fastest rates in the world.

Even if the law is passed, will it be implemented?

The lack of a reliable birth registration system in Yemen might hamper the implementation of the law; some parents might lie about their child’s age, say experts. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says an effective birth registration system is fundamental to the realization of a number of rights and practical needs.

Activists are hopeful that changing perceptions about long-held traditions could bring about real change. “If the passing of the law is followed up with awareness campaigns and education, it has a chance of being implemented,” said lawyer Nasser.

© IRIN

 

World leaders condemn Britain terror attack

UN-backed Syria talks restart in Geneva

10 Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai roadside bombings

Erdogan warns Europeans risk being ‘unsafe’ on world’s streets

Saudi film festival launch postponed after sandstorm

Britain arrests eight as IS claims Westminster attack

Man attempts to drive into crowd of shoppers in Belgium’s Antwerp

Palestinian FA chief says ball in Israel's court

Israel arrests Jewish teen over anti-Semitic terror threats

An Egypt court is to reopen a corruption probe into Mubarak

Bahrain frees award-winning AFP photographer

Erdogan slams 'pressure' on Turks in Bulgaria ahead of vote

Israel policeman suspended after caught on video beating Palestinian

Turkey summons Russia envoy over soldier death in Syria

Bahrain sentences three to death for police bombings

EU summons Turkey envoy over 'safety' remarks

400,000 'trapped' in west Mosul's Old City

Qaeda, IS developing harder-to-detect bombs say experts

Terrorist attack at London’s Houses of Parliament

2016 saw sharp rise in illegal Israeli settlement projects

US-led coalition vows lasting victory against IS

Bahrain arrests photographer on unspecified charges

Humanitarian groups demand access to Yemen civilians suffering 'open-air massacre'

33 killed in US-led air strike on north Syria

Rights group says Libyan military committed war crimes

Israel seals East Jerusalem home of Palestinian attacker's family

Migrants in Europe at risk of drug-resistant tuberculosis

Iraqis urged to avoid hurried mass grave exhumations

Turkey steps up objection to US flight laptop ban

Britain joins US in banning laptops on flights from Turkey, Arab world

Anti-IS coalition gathers in Washington to hear Trump plan

Turkey links Gulen to murder of Armenian journalist

Kuwait bans hit movie ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Five dead in Mogadishu bombing

Khamenei fleshes out 'Made in Iran' vision

Turkey to ask US to reverse flight laptop ban

Israeli army says Hezbollah commander killed by own men

Kurds celebrate Newroz in Turkey's southeast despite shooting

Turkey’s AKP says no more campaign rallies in Germany

Chinese president calls for peace in meeting with Netanyahu

Iraq forces gain ground in Mosul

US bans electronic devices from cabins on Middle East flights

Erdogan says yes vote best response to 'fascist Europe'

Arab Israeli woman gets 50 months prison for joining IS

All Syria sides confirm attendance at Geneva talks