Social impact of temporary marriages

Amal Mohammed is an 18-year-old Yemeni woman living in the city of Ibb, 150km south of the Yemeni capital, Sana, who says she is suffering from psychological problems and a constant headache following an unsuccessful marriage to an elderly Saudi man. She says she now sees marriage as a nightmare after being married and divorced in the course of only a few weeks.

Amal was the victim of a so-called 'summer' or 'tourist' marriage, as Yemenis call the unwittingly temporary unions which are having a negative impact on religiously and culturally conservative Yemen society.

Men from wealthy Gulf states flock to the country where they 'marry' young Yemeni girls. The couples spend their honeymoon in hotels and then the grooms return to their own countries saying they will make arrangements and send for their brides soon. They say they need to arrange visas and make promises of a better life when they are reunited with their new young wives. Most of the girls never hear from the men again.

"A Saudi man came to my father and asked to marry me. I was 16 years old then. My father agreed without questioning. Three days later we got married. We spent some good time in the hotel. He left after one month. I later found out he was already married in his home country, some days later I got notification of divorce by mail," Amal said

A study of the practice by Fuad al-Shibami, a lecturer at Ibb university, showed that 65 percent of the victims of such marriages were under 24 years of age.

"There is a common denominator between those summer husbands - they like marrying very young girls to satisfy their sexual lust and desire," the study said. "Their prime goal in marrying such youngsters is sexual, with no consideration for social, religious or human aspects of the unions," it added.

The low incomes of the parents inevitably drive many parents to push their daughters into these sham marriages. According to the latest World Bank report, 42 percent of Yemen's 19.7 million people live on under US $2 per day, literacy rates are estimated at 50 percent and unemployment was running at 37 percent in 2003.

According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) 7.9 percent of people in Yemen experience severe food insecurity and cannot afford to buy food for themselves or their family. The Ibb university study into temporary marriages is the first of its kind. It concludes by recommending an awareness campaign through the media and through mosques sermons pointing out the negative social impact of the growing practice and calling for government action to stamp it out.

For teenager Amal Mohammed any public awareness campaign is already too late. She says she is now stigmatised as a divorcee and will probably not be able to remarry.