Young Girls Defy Early Marriage in Yemen
Monday, July 7, 2008 11:20 AM

Two recent cases, brought by children who had been forced into early marriages, shine a spotlight on the continuing plight of young girls in Yemen.  The first girl was only nine years old when she was married and then 8 months later, escaped from her husband’s home and went to a local hospital because of physical and sexual abuse.  The second girl was 10 when she went by herself to the local courthouse, asking for a divorce from her 30-year-old husband.


The practice of early marriage remains common in rural Yemen, where the average age when girls are married is between 12 and 13 years old.  There are various reasons for the continued practice.  Islamic conservatives defend the practice on religious grounds, using the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old as an example.  Families of the young girls defend it on the basis that the marriage provides protection against kidnapping and forced marriages, which remain common in Yemen.  Poverty and cultural beliefs also remain strong influences on continuing the practice.


Yet, these two cases have helped to drive the movement against early marriage forward.  During the civil war, Southern Yemen had a strict age minimum of 16 at which girls could be married, but this was overturned after the reunification and rise of Islamic conservatism.   But cases like these have spurred the outrage of Yemeni society and amongst advocates, leading to calls for legal and societal change.  The fight to end early marriage will be difficult in Yemen, but cases such as these help to illustrate how badly it is needed.


Compiled from: Worth, Robert F., "Tiny Voices Defy Child Marriage in Yemen," New York Times, 29 June, 2008.