Yemen: Parliamentary committee strikes down age of marriage amendment

Yemen Observer
The committee of Islamic Legislations and Sharia’a in the Yemeni Parliament has rejected a proposed Draft Law to increase the legal age of marriage to 18.
The government presented a draft law, saying that marriage was only acceptable over the age of 18. However this was rejected by parliament, which set the official age of marriage at 15.
The committee also rejected an amendment in law number 20 from 1992 governing family affairs, rejecting the addition of an article entitling first wives the right of divorce in cases where the husband does not receive their consent in taking a second wife.

The chairperson of the Yemeni Women’s Union Ramzyah al-Eryani said that this rejection is unjustifiable, and civil society organizations and women’s rights organizations were all shocked by the parliament’s committee decision. “Women and human rights organizations will never drop the demand to raise the age of marriage to 18. They will simply wait for the new parliament to put these same demands on the table, until the law is approved,” said al- Eryani. She questioned how the Yemeni Parliament in its entirety could follow the opinion of two MP’s in the committee, who she described as fundamentalist and backwards thinking regarding women’s issues. She added that these two MP’s were the same who rejected amendments in the law which equalized blood money payments for the murder of women.

The head of the Media Forum for supporting child-related issues, Samir al-Muthhji said a boy or a girl below the age of 18 are considered children, and forcing them to be married, including the responsibilities which go with it, is an attack and violation against their rights. It forces them to endure matters which are beyond their capacity to endure. “Early marriage in Yemen has shown catastrophic consequences for society at large, consequences which are very clear. As we saw from the story of Najood, and hundreds of girls not known to the people, who are suffering as a result of this practice,” said al-Muthhji. Parliament discussed in their session last Sunday the amendments the government would like to make to law 20 governing family affairs. These amendments aimed to eliminate discrimination against women in Yemen.

Edroos al-Naqib, MP said that this issue is still within the committee and when time comes for a vote on this issue there is a large number of MP’s who would support the raising of the marriage age to 18. The Yemen Observer tried to contact members of the committee but no one responded.

In recent months, many civil society organizations have demanded the age of marriage be set at 18 to fight childhood marriages, which are common in Yemen, especially in rural areas. Recent studies on maternal health have found that 1/3 Yemeni women have given birth to 5-6 children before the age of thirty.

In the past three months, the media in Yemen has reported a number of marriage cases of girls in Yemen between the ages of 9-15. Yet, there remain “hundreds, if not thousands of girls being married before the age of 15.” The reasons behind these early marriages include lack of education and poverty. According to sociologists, what makes this problem worse is that these girls are married to men far older than themselves, sometimes over 60.

10 February 2009

By: Abdul-Aziz Oudah