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Yemen will soon vote on the inclusive Child Rights Act in hopes to alleviate child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM.) According to the United Nations, more than half of Yemeni girls get married by just 18 years old, and these marriages are often synonymous with abuse, sexual violence and FGM.

FGM is still prolific in almost 30 countries, where most girls are mutilated before the age of 5. Countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia, where FGM victims hit the 20 million count, often rely on traditional practitioners to perform most of the procedures. Banned from Egypt in 2008, the procedure is still a not so taboo, yet illegal, “tradition”: more than 90 percent of women in the country have been subjected to FGM.

Labeled a human rights violation by the U.N., FGM has absolutely no health benefits for women. Procedures can cause heavy bleeding and problems urinating, and can eventually result in cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn death. The procedure, which removes and damages healthy and normal female genital tissue, poses a serious risk to the natural functions of women’s bodies. Yet FGM, like many other cultural traditions, is difficult to completely erase even by law. An act of patriarchal control, FGM works under the intent of controlling women’s bodies to ensure “virginity, purity and modesty.”

The Child Rights Act would work to eliminate mental, emotional and physical abuse and would ban child marriage and FGM. Establishing a minimum age of marriage at 18, the law would impose fines on guardians, marriage officials or any other persons aware of the transgression.

Yet FGM is not only common in Eastern countries: it happens here in the United States, too. An estimated 228,000 women in America are either at risk or have received the procedure, and this number is increasing. Sent to countries where the practice is still legal, many victims are beginning to speak out against the procedure, demanding more attention from the U.S. government. Subsequently, the 2014 U.S. Department of State Human Rights country reports include a mandatory question regarding FGM for the first time.

Yemen, which is set to vote on the Child Rights Act this coming month, has a long way to go before it gets passed. If approved by the prime minister and cabinet, the legislation would then go to a parliamentary vote. Ultimately, the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, would have final say regarding its passing. After an unsuccessful push to make 17 the legal age of marriage in Yemen in just 2009, human rights groups around the world are hoping the Yemeni government will act judiciously in passing this potentially life-saving legislation.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Guardian, Liberty Voice, UNICEF 1, UNICEF 2
Photo: ViralNova

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The Yemeni government has just taken the first steps to what could be the end of child marriage in Yemen.

Currently, there are not any laws in place dictating the minimum age for marriage. This has led to children being married off at young ages. In a move that seems promising for activists opposing child marriage across the region, the Human Rights Ministry of Yemen (HRM) effectively stopped a 12 year old girl from being forced to marry.

Unlike this fortunate young girl, many Yemeni girls are married off at a young age to much older men. In such cases, usually forced by their families into marriages, upon marriage many of these young women are exposed to suffering domestic violence and abuse.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report that indicated 14% of Yemeni girls are married before they are 15 years old. 52% will be married before they are 18. And, in addition to such findings, many problems have be identified to associate with child marriage — most notably, are concerns detrimental to their psychological and physical well-being.

Hiba, a 12 year old from Taiz, a city in southern Yemen, was due to be married at the beginning of November. An official from the HRM reported that they aided Hiba in avoiding marriage by working with the local authorities. The authorities said if the marriage were to go through, she would be granted an immediate divorce. Although this case had a happy ending, without the government passing a legislation to outlaw child marriage, girls all over the country are still at risk.

Recently, the Human Rights Ministry of Yemen has put the issue of child marriage at the top of their to-do list.

A bill is expected to be introduced that will hopefully establish a minimum age requirement for marriage, making it a law that no one under 17 can be married. A similar law was proposed four years ago and received support from human rights and women’s groups, but was eventually blocked by traditional religious leaders. The new bill is expected to be a new draft of the older bill — there is hope that it may receive wider support this time around.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Daily Beast, Huffington Post
Photo: Vintage 3D

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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