Widespread child marriage jeopardizes Yemeni girls’ access to education, harms their health, and keeps them second-class citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government of Yemen should set 18 as the minimum age for marriage to improve girls’ opportunities and protect their human rights.
The 54-page report, “‘How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?’: Child Marriage in Yemen,” documents the lifelong damage to girls who are forced to marry young. Yemeni girls and women told Human Rights Watch about being forced into child marriages by their families, and then having no control over whether and when to bear children and other important aspects of their lives. They said that marrying early had cut short their education, and some said they had been subjected to marital rape and domestic abuse. There is no legal minimum age for girls to marry in Yemen. Many girls are forced into marriage, and some are as young as 8.
“Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list,” said Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “But now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future.”
Over the past months, demonstrators called for a range of reforms, including measures to guarantee equality between women and men. Banning child marriage – a major cause of discrimination and abuse against girls and women – should be a priority for reform, Human Rights Watch said.
Yemeni government and United Nations datashow that approximately 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, and 52 percent are married before age 18. In some rural areas, girls as young as 8 are married. Girls are sometimes forced to marry much older men. Boys are seldom forced into child marriages.
The report is based on field research in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, between August and September 2010, including interviews with more than 30 girls and women who were married as children, members of nongovernmental organizations, and staff members at the Health and Education Ministries.
Magda T., whose name has been changed for her protection, told Human Rights Watch: “Ireached sixth grade, and left school to get married. Now, when I see my daughter, I say to myself, ‘Who’s going to teach her?’ Because I can’t. I understood [the value of education] when I got older.”
A 16-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch: “My father insisted that I get married. I wanted to go to college, to become a lawyer, but there’s no chance now because I’m going to have a baby.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed girls who said they were forced to marry young and several who had been removed from school as soon as they reached puberty. A Yemeni study found that many parents remove girls in rural areas from school at age 9 to help in the house, raise their younger siblings, and sometimes to get married. Almost all of the girls and women interviewed said that once they were married, they were unable to continue or complete their education, and many had children soon after marriage.