Yemen: Threat to legislation outlawing child marriage

Although Yemen's parliament has agreed to set the minimum age for marriage at 17, there are concerns the decision may be rescinded as some members of parliament (MPs) say the amendments violate Sharia (Islamic) law.
On 11 February, most MPs agreed on amending some articles in the law regarding women and child rights. However, Horiah Mashour, deputy head of the National Women's Committee (NWC), a government body, said there was still some resistance to the amendments by a minority of extremist MPs. "They want to bring the amendments into discussion again. They say there is no marriage age set by Sharia," she told IRIN.
One MP, Abdulbari Dughaish, told IRIN that some MPs sought to re-open discussions on the new amendments. "Withdrawing the agreed decision on setting the marriage age at 17 is possible. The MPs who agreed on it might change their minds," he said.

The new amendments were meant to elevate the status of children and the family. Early marriage deprives a child from enjoying life, entertainment and education, he said. He said Yemen and Saudi Arabia were the only Arab countries that had not legally set the marriage age.

Under the new amendments, children younger than 17 are not allowed to marry unless it is deemed by a judge to be in their best interests. The new amendments stipulate that the husband or the girl's guardian have to document the marriage contract, listing their ages, to the authorities within a month of marriage. Failure to do so would result in the husband and the girl's guardian being financially penalised.

Horiah said that before the reunification of Yemen in 1994, the law set the marriage age at 15 in southern and northern parts of the country. But five years later the law was amended and a girl's custodian had the authority to decide if a girl should marry.

Awareness needed

She said people, especially in rural areas, might outwit the new legislation by not revealing the true age of child brides. "Although a birth registration certificate is issued [by the government] for free, there are still people who won't get it at all. In this case, they can decide any age for the girl." Horiah pointed out that awareness campaigns were necessary to help spread news of the amendments, adding that "local radio can play a big role in educating people".

In a recent study by the NWC and Sanaa University’s Gender Development Research and Study Centre on early marriage in the governorates of Hadramaout and al-Hudeidah, 52 percent of 6,000 female respondents were married underage.

A 2007 report by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) ranked Yemen 13 out of 20 worst countries in terms of the prevalence of child marriage. The report said 48.4 percent of women were married before 18.

23 February 2009

Source: IRIN