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Yemen 'should stop child marriages'

Human rights activists and lawyers should put pressure on the government to ban marriage of young girls, said a Yemeni lawyer.

Image Credit:Reuters
Lawyer Shatha addresses a news conference in Sana'a as 8-year-old Nojoud, whose marriage was terminated by a court in Sana'a on April 15, listens.
Gulf News

Sana'a: Human rights activists and lawyers should put pressure on the government to ban marriage of young girls, said a Yemeni lawyer.

Lawyer Shatha Nasser, who defended an 8-year-old girl who was divorced last week in a Yemeni court, called all civil society organisations and human rights activist to form a coalition for amending the current law which allows marriage of children under 15.

"Our next step now is to do all that we can to make the minimum marriage age in Yemen 18 years," Shatha told Gulf News.

"But this cannot happen if there is no cooperation between lawyers and human right groups," she said.

Eight-year-old Nojoud was in the news last week after appearing in the court requesting a divorce from her 32-year-old husband after a two-month marriage. Shatha said there were a lot of child marriages in Yemen.

"Nojoud was just one case, there are many like Nojoud, but they cannot go to the courts," she said.

The civil society organisations and lawyers cannot much help the girls who were forced to marriage without having the current law amended, she said.

On April 15, with support from Shatha and judge Aboud Al Khaleq Ghowber, Nojoud paid her way out of marriage. The amount of 100,000 Yemeni riyals was given by an anonymous donor in the UAE, and Nojoud happily became an 8-year-old divorcee.

"This was the first time a girl came to us for a divorce. We are going to do our best to push the parliament to change the marriage law," said Judge Ghowber.

"I am so happy to be free and I will go back to school and will never think of getting married again," Nojoud said joyfully. "It is a good feeling to be rid of my husband and his bad treatment."

She said that she felt lucky that she did not have to continue in such a marriage and a live out a life similar to her sisters, who also married young.

"Although Nojoud does not know her real birthday, I believe this day she was born again and it would be apt to celebrate this day as the first day of her new life," said Shatha.

According to the International Centre for Research on Women's 2007 statistics, Yemen is one of 20 developing countries where child marriages are common. Nearly half of all Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18.

Most women have their first child immediately after their first menstruation cycle and are likely to have many more. Yemen's fertility rate is very high, with an average of 6.3 children per woman, and the country also has some of the highest mother and infant mortality rates worldwide.

According to research on early marriage in Yemen from Oxfam and the United Nations Population Fund, many girls like Nojoud develop irreparable psychological scarrings from early marriage and the forced sexual encounters that accompany it.

"I hated nights because they usually meant that my husband would come to my bed. I used to run from him and he would chase me and beat me and do his thing. I pray that my younger sisters do not face the same fate," said Nojoud. Now Nojoud is living with her uncle and his family in relative safety.