In Yemen, women protest delay on child marriage ban
Hundreds of women protested today in Yemen, urging the government to pass a fiercely debated bill that would ban child marriage. Roughly half of Yemeni girls are married before turning 18 – with some only half that old.
Hundreds of Yemen women, veiled in the black niqab, demonstrated outside parliament on Tuesday in support of a fiercely debated bill that would ban the marriage of girls under the age of 17. According to recent studies, roughly half of Yemeni girls are married before turning 18 – and in some villages, they are wed at only half that old.Skip to next paragraph
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The government has enough votes to pass the child marriage bill, but President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ruling party is caught in a delicate dance with the religious opposition.
The poorest country in the Arab world and a focus of international concerns about Islamist militancy, Yemen is held together in no small measure by the religious and conservative tribal leaders that govern its rural areas. Without these leaders’ support for the child marriage law, which many of them see as clashing with Islamic law, the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) could falter.
“We have a parliamentary majority and the support of the president. We therefore have the ability to pass the law,” says Sameer Radha, a member of the president’s ruling party, standing outside parliament here in the Yemeni capital.
But in an interview with the Monitor, Dr. Radha says that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress, is waiting for the support of the main opposition – the religiously conservative Islah party.
“If we wanted to go to war, for example, we could pass it straight through parliament, but this issue is much more sensitive as it is related to sharia law,” he explains. If the GPC moves ahead without Islah, he adds, the opposition party will brand the ruling party as “full of infidels.”
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Child marriage is widespread in Yemen, particularly in rural areas, where girls as young as eight are married off by poor parents who see marriage as financial security for their children.
A study carried out in 2008 by the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre at Sanaa University found that 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married before turning 18, while a 2007 study by the International Centre for Research on Women put the figure at 48 percent. The latter study put Yemen 13th in the world for child marriage; the problem is also widespread in South Asia, especially India – where one child bride made headlines recently by saying, "I won't."
Yemen's movement against child marriage gathered strength after the 2008 furor over the story of Nojoud Mohammed Ali, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl
who managed to divorce her 30-year-old husband. Last fall, the issue resurfaced, with the highly publicized story of Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12-year-old girl who died in childbirth after three days of labor.