Yemen Could Seize Moment to Ban Child Marriage

Friday, December 16, 2011

Now that Yemen's Saleh has agreed to cede power, Nadya Khalife says it's time to remember the country's girls who are being forced into marriage. The practice dooms many young women and should be stopped as part of the transitional reform process.

Nadya Khalife(WOMENSENEWS)--Yemen's version of the Arab Spring has eclipsed urgent social concerns both in debates within Yemen and with donor countries. One of these issues is the widespread forced marriage of girls; very young girls in some cases.

Now that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to cede power, there may be an opportunity to press for social reform as part of the transition process.

Yemen's incoming leaders should put the human rights of girls and women high on their agenda. A good place to start would be a legal ban on marriage before age 18.

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On Dec. 10, the Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman, who has long called for increasing the minimum age for marriage, was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. Her award speaks volumes to girls and women in Yemen about their importance in shaping their country's future.

The United States and other donors should provide assistance to bolster girls' education, health care and protection from violence. But donors also need to press Yemen to end the pernicious practice of child marriage, which often cuts off access to education and other services.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Yemen last January, just before political tensions escalated, she said, "We must help young women . . . to make the case in their own societies that child marriage is unjust and unwise."

She noted the story of one Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali, whose father forced her at age 9 to marry a man three times her age. Nujood's husband repeatedly beat and raped her, so she divorced him, at age 10. Her courage helped other girls speak out about the damage from child marriage.

Clinton said ending child marriage promotes education and health, adding that the United States should support both, including maternal health.

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Let us wish, hope, meditate and pray that this may be accomplished, that the girls of Yemen are not married before the age of consent, and are not forced to choose their mate according to any wishes other than their own, that the age of consent in Yemen is at least 18 years old, that when a girl reaches age 18 she is not pressured to choose marriage before all other choices, and that personal independence in the form of jobs and education are as available to her as they are to 18 year old boys in Yemen.
Happy Holidays!