As Yemen transitions politically and restructures its constitution, the number one priority should be to protect its citizens—particularly Yemeni girls who are too often subject to child marriage. Traditionally, poor families have married off underage girls in exchange for money, a practice that is not only unethical but also extremely dangerous.

The absence of a legal minimum age for girls to marry endangers the lives of Yemeni females. Without legal protection from instances of rape, systemic inequalities are pervasive. A 2006 UN survey revealed that approximately 14 percent of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent are married before the age of 18. Tellingly, these child marriages limit the potential of young girls, entrapping them to a parochial life dominated largely by an authoritative male partner.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, a child bride explained the perils of her situation: “I thought marriage was just a wedding, a party and that was it. I didn’t have any idea that marriage had another meaning.”

“I loved learning,” she said. “Then my family saw the results of my first year of high school and I had failed…(my) pregnancy influenced my health, because my body wasn’t ready for pregnancy at that young age. As a side effect, I was unable to study because of the fatigue of pregnancy. My dream when I was young had been to become a doctor.”

In September, media attention further highlighted the dangers of child marriage when it covered the story of an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who bled to death after being raped by her husband, a man in his 40s. As details spread, international attention and outrage looked to the Yemeni government for immediate action.

Since then, a variety of activists have worked towards reform, but there is still major progress to be made.

Yemen must be proactive in reforming its laws around child marriage, for the fate of its young female population depends on it.

Anna Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch, BBC