Child Marriages and Death in Yemen
The year may be 2010 in the West, but in Yemen it is still the middle ages where under-age girls are routinely forced into marriages with much older males.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCF) reported death of a 12-year-old Yemeni girl three days after her marriage. Elham Mahdi was married off to a man at least twice her age on March 29th. She died of internal hemorrhage resulting from forced sex.
Child marriages are common in Yemen. The UN estimates that one in three girls is married before they reach 18. Last year a 12-year-old Yemeni girl and her baby died during childbirth after three days of labor. She too, was forced into marriage to a much older man.
There was a time in the Arab world when parents used to bury their girl-childs. With the advent of Islam in the 7th century, Prophet Mohammed worked hard to uplift the status of women in the society. Yet, even today in Yemen, as in many other Muslim countries, parents consider girls as financial or moral burden, and compel them into marriages at the earliest opportunity.
In 2008, the story of a 10-year-old girl, Nujood Ali made the headlines in Yemen. She was forcibly married to an older man, who beat and raped her within weeks of the marriage. Nujood escaped in a taxi and went to the central courthouse where she demanded to see a judge. As a result of the huge outcry in the country following the incident, a public trial ensued, and she was granted divorce.
Most underage girls nevertheless are not fortunate as Nujood; they are coerced to drop out of school, subjected to violence and even lose their lives from pregnancy, childbirth and other complications.
A Yemeni government official commented, “The government has been working tirelessly to cement the minimum marriage age but conservative parliamentarians have stood against it.”
The official, who was not authorized to speak to the media added, “Members of the conservative block need to step up to the responsibility of protecting the rights and freedoms of the young. NGOs must continue campaigning to shed light on this unfortunate practice.”
The problem the reformers face in the Muslim world is that devoted Muslims love to follow examples of Prophet Mohammad in all aspects of their lives. The conservative Muslim scholars often cite the marriage of Ayesha to Mohammed in support of child marriages. Various Islamic books quote Ayesha’s age anywhere between six and 12 when she was married to the prophet, who was well over 50 at the time.