A backwards society, shoddy economy and Islamist terror – many difficult problems flood the country of Yemen, one of the worst is the phenomenon of young girls forced into marriage.
Just last month an eight year old, identified as Rawan, died of internal bleeding, apparently the result of being forced to have sex with her 40-year-old husband on her wedding night.
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Dr. Arwa Rabi'i, a gynecologist from the capital city of Sana'a, talked to the i24news channel and called for raising the marriage age to 18. "When a woman marries before the age of 18, before the uterus and hips are fully developed, there are going to be many gynecological complications such as multiple miscarriages and life-threatening infections," she said. "We see it every day, not every month or week, every day! A lot of them, 10 or 20 sick girls."
Belkis Wille, an activist in Human Rights Watch, talking to i24news from Yemen via Skype, said that in rural areas, it is common to see marriage at the ages of eight or nine. Regarding Rawan's story, she said: "Unfortunately, this specific story is influenced by a lot of rumors; various local authorities are saying the story is not true, while the journalist who broke the story refuses to believe it's not true.
"Different human rights organizations are taking different position locally, but from every point of view, whether this story is true or not, it's irrelevant considering that this happening around the country all the time. I've personally come across two or three cases I've heard from gynecologists of girls who bled to death on their wedding night."
In Yemen, there no definition of a child
Following the death of the girl, Civil Rights Minister Huria Mashhoor said that she will work to raise the marriage age in the country to prevent such incidents recurring. "We demand to raise the legal wedding age to 18, considering Yemen is signed on the international treaties for children's rights." The government commissioned a special committee to look into reports about the death of the child. Before the commission, the minister expressed concern that there may attempts to silence the case.
"Fixing a minimum age in legislation is a step in the right direction," said Wille, "However, there must also be criminalization of fathers, mothers and husbands who can be held legally responsible if they broke the law. Until 1999, the age was 16, it was said eventually to be too high, and that's why it was removed.
"I've spoken to many girls and girls in their early 20s who have been forced to marry and I think that what stands out is that when a girl drops out of school at eight or nine years old, which is the reality of it, she goes and gets married, and then moves into her husband's house, the likelihood is high that she will become a victim of domestic violence by her husband and his family. The young brides are very isolated and have no skills outside the home."
According to data from Human Rights Watch, about 14% of girls in Yemen are forced into marriage under the age of 15, and about 53% marry under the age of 18.
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