The National Women’s Committee (NWC), a government body, has called for an end to child marriage, - common in rural areas - by proposing a minimum legal age for marriage.
Horiah Mash-hor, deputy head of the NWC, said the NWC had reviewed Article 15 of the Personal Status Law, and proposed setting the minimum marriage age at 18.
The NWC also proposed introducing punishments - a one-year jail sentence or a 100,000 riyal [US$ 500] fine - for those who marry off youngsters below this age.
"[Setting the minimum marriage age at 18] has been a proposal since 2000, but the Yemeni parliament's Islamic Sharia Codification Committee has not yet presented the amendments to parliament for discussion," she told IRIN.
She said the 1994 Personal Status Law set the minimum marriage age at 15. "But amendments to the law in 1999 made it unclear, and the law now fails to mention an exact [minimum] age for marriage. It only authorises the girl's guardian to decide whether she is physically and psychologically prepared for marriage," she said.
The NWC has appealed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and parliament to present the proposed law to parliament for discussion. "But there are extreme groups in society and in parliament which are against amending the law,” she said.
According to a 2007 report issued by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), Yemen ranked 13 out of the 20 worst countries in terms of the prevalence of child marriage, with 48.4 percent of women under 18 being married.
According to an unpublished 2007 study on early marriage by Sanaa University’s Gender Development Research and Study Centre, religious, tribal and community leaders were against the idea of setting a legal minimum marriage age, saying it would contradict Islamic precepts.
Conducted in Hadhramaut and al-Hudeidah governorates, the study found that 52 percent of girls under 15 were married.
It said some religious leaders believed Islam had not set a marriage age, thus allowing individuals to determine it, based on individual circumstances. Others thought it restricted “people's freedom”.
The study said pregnancies at a young age often led to health complications, with “hormone and physical changes… which confuse her body growth and affect her health in the long and medium term”.
Raising awareness via radio
Horiah Mash-hor said the NWC had been working with 14 local non-governmental organisations on spreading awareness about early marriage and its dangers through local radio.
"We have spread a lot of awareness messages to people to educate them about early marriage and its consequences,” she said, adding that child marriage was responsible for the high number of girls dropping out of school, and high illiteracy rates.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Yemen faces a serious challenge in bridging the education gender gap: In 2006, for every 100 boys in primary school there were only 63 girls.
Yemen is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions