The Yemeni minor girl who was about to get married ;the girl with the police. Photos by Yasser Ubbad./Gulf News Archive

Sana’a: Yemen has taken an important step towards tackling child marriage in the country by incorporating a sentence in the new constitution fixing minimum marriage age at 18.

For years, human right activists have been lobbying for issuing a law establishing 18 as minimum marriage age to curb the common practice of underage marriage in the poor country.

Under the new constitution, article 124 of the second chapter says minimum marriage age is fixed at 18.

Olfat Al Doubai, a member of constitution-drafting panel, told Gulf News that there was a short argument between the panel members while they formulated the article.

“The argument ended when the members realised that fixing the marriage age was one of the outcomes of National Dialogue Conference.” she said.

When the National Dialogue Conference began in 2013 after the departure of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, activists pressured the participants to include a fixed marriage age, despite opposition from some Islamists who see minimum marriage age as a violation of Islamic law.

Child marriage has become a widely-debated issue in Yemen in the last three years after local and international media reported on girls as young as ten years old getting married. Some of those girls reportedly died either on the wedding night or while giving birth. Some of these cases occurred in the northern province of Hajja.

Yahya Kodiesh, a journalist from Hajja said, “Child marriage is widespread in Hajja. I have recorded many cases of girls getting married at the age of 10 to 15,” he said.

Kodiesh says social norms as well as poverty are the main driving factors behind child marriage.

The new draft constitution has yet to be approved by the powerful Al Houthi movement which over the past week held the government hostage demanding larger representation in the government. However, the movement has not shown any opposition to setting a minimum age for marriage.