Yemen still wedded to child marriages

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The early marriages often have dire consequences.

Women who give birth before they are 18 are almost eight times as likely to die in labor than those who give birth in their 20s, Mr. ur-Rehman said. In some parts of Yemen, women are about 60 times more likely to die in childbirth than in the United States.

Fawziya Youssef was 12 when she died in early September, according to Mr. al-Quareshi. Fawziya and her husband, 26, had been married for only a year.

Fawziya died of severe bleeding while delivering a stillborn baby after three days of painful labor. Her parents, however, do not think she died because she was married too young, said Mr. al-Quareshi. In their village in the Hoedeida governorate, it is the custom to marry girls before they are 13.

Fawziya’s parents are heartbroken, but have no recourse.

“There are no laws saying that this is a crime,” Mr. al-Quareshi said.

In February, a bill that would set a minimum marriage age was put to a vote in parliament. It passed 17 to 13, according to Fouad Dahabahi, a legislator. But before the president could sign it, it was blocked. A prominent sheik and several other Muslim religious leaders had objected, saying it contradicted Islamic law, which allows girls to be married at age 9.

Although most members of parliament disagreed with the sheik privately, according to Mr. Dahabahi they were worried about appearing un-Islamic. They sent the bill to be re-examined by committees on health, the constitution, Islamic law and human rights.

Mr. Dahabahi said he supported the bill because when he was 19, he was married to a 13-year-old girl named Intisar.

Soon after they were married, she became pregnant. She got very sick, and her frail health and misery haunted the family for years. “She was a child when she was a mother,” he said.

The bill, he said, is also delayed because parliament members prefer not to argue publicly about such a controversial issue. And, as in many bodies in the Yemeni government, parliament has trouble getting things done because it is in session only five months a year.

Other lawmakers said they oppose the law because setting a specific age for marriage is an unnecessary bow to Western culture.

“Why do we have follow [Western] traditions?” asked parliament member Mohammad al-Hamzi. “God created the girl, and knows when she is ready.”

Mr. al-Hamzi said that girls who marry before puberty should not, and normally do not, have sex with their husbands. But, he added, “If something bad happens to her, she has the right to go to the judge and ask for a divorce, like Nujood.”

Last year, 10-year-old Nujood Ali went to court alone to seek freedom from an abusive husband. She sued for divorce against her father’s will. She won because a sympathetic judge believed that her husband had raped her.

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