This week hundreds of women in Yemen protested in support of a bill that would ban child marriage. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, the government has enough votes for the bill to pass, however President Ali Abdullah Seleh’s ruling party is reluctant due to religious opposition from the conservative Islah party, which holds a lot of power in the rural areas. The proposed bill would subject parents to a fine or a possible one year jail sentence for marrying their daughters before the age of 17. With almost half of Yemeni girls married before the age of 18, and girls often married at age eight in rural areas, the passage of this bill is desperately needed.
On March 8, I wrote a blog entry referencing a Nicholas Kristof column in the New York Times about Nujood, a 10-year old girl from Yemen who created controversy when she asked for a divorce from her 30-year old husband. Nujood’s story has increased international pressure on the Yemeni government, but passage of the child marriage ban is still far from certain.
This is more than a human rights issue. Child marriage prevents girls from receiving the education they deserve, as they are often pulled from school to live with their new husbands. It has important health implications; child brides are far more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. Young brides are also less likely to know about STDs like HIV/AIDS, and are more likely to suffer domestic violence and abuse.
A decision on this bill is expected next month. Yemeni women have taken to the streets in support of the proposed law, but women everywhere need to speak up.
Posted by Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate