“One girl was 14 and got married. Now she has a son and she is still a child herself.”
"It should not be allowed because it deprives a girl of enjoying her childhood."
"One girl was married off by her parents at the age of 14… She gave birth to her first child normally but with the second child she almost died."
Those are the words of Yemeni girls describing their opinions of early marriage in a report by Save the Children Sweden in cooperation with Gender-Development Research and Studies Centre at Sanaa University entitled Gender Based Sexual Violence Against Teenage Girls in the Middle East.
According to the report, Yemeni girls are deprived of their child rights when they are prepared for motherhood at an early age. “Such a role creates an apprehension among girls and their families that marrying is the primary goal for girls,” the report's research leader, Pernilla Ouis, told IRIN.
Early marriage, according to the Child Rights Convention, is a marriage that takes place before the bride or groom reach the age of 18. In Yemen, conservative social values and poverty force girls to marry and become young mothers before the age of 18, said Ouis. Furthermore, many parents believe that if they marry off their daughters early, they will be able to protect their daughters’ honour and that of the family.
However, Ouis said their study showed the very opposite. “We have identified a strong relationship between early marriage and increased domestic violence against girls, as well as an increase in the number of divorces among young couples. Then you have poverty which is forcing families to marry off their daughters to alleviate financial burdens and expenses on education.”
Because of the conditions that girls and young mothers face, Yemen is ranked at the very bottom of the Mothers’ Index 2007, Ouis told IRIN. Out of 33 least developed countries, Yemen is ranked 31.
Suha Bashren, a policy and campaign officer from Oxfam, told IRIN early marriage had a negative impact on development. She said she had no doubt that widespread early marriage and the impact of this on society, had contributed to Yemen’s ranking in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) slipping from 148 in 2000 to 150 in 2007.
|Women selling fruit in Taiz. The Global Gender Gap Index 2007 indicates that women in Yemen live in a very unequal society: Yemen ranked bottom at number 128|
“When girls are married, they face serious physical and psychological problems because their minds and bodies are not developed enough for them to become wives and mothers. In addition, the lack of education in reproductive health causes huge problems since girls do not get the support on how to negotiate with their husbands about their sexual life and how many children they would like to have,” said Bashren.
“This is one of the main reasons why Yemeni women have a high fertility rate, which is about 6.5 children. When these girls become pregnant, they face a widespread lack of health services and will have to deliver at home. Only 20-30 percent of women in Yemen are able to deliver with the help of skilled health personnel,” she said.
The Global Gender Gap Index 2007 indicates that women in Yemen live in a very unequal society: Yemen ranked bottom at number 128.
According to the index (produced by the World Economic Forum), on a scale in which 0.0 equals inequality and 1.0 equals equality, economic empowerment and opportunity for women in Yemen was scored at 0.251, educational attainment at 0.565, health and survival at 0.980 and political empowerment at 0.008.
Lack of education, empowerment
According to Dr Husnia al-Kaderi, Director of Sanaa University’s Gender-Development Research and Studies Centre, early marriage is the main reason for the lack of education among girls and lack of women’s empowerment.
“When they get married, girls are expected to quit school and engage in motherly activities. This is the reason why illiteracy among Yemeni women is more than 70 percent,” Husnia told IRIN.
“Unfortunately, I am afraid that girls will face more obstacles when they try to attend higher education. The government's decision to introduce a two-year compulsory service in education and health centres for 30,000 girls after completing school, will have a negative impact on girls’ scope for attending higher education institutions. If these girls are not married when the compulsory service starts, they will definitely be married when it ends two years later. In practice it means the current low numbers of female students at universities will further decrease.”