Business for Peace Award

The loss of innocence in Yemen

Published on 29 April 2013 in Opinion
Sophie Ghaziri / English.alarabiya.net / First Published April 27 (author)

Sophie Ghaziri / English.alarabiya.net / First Published April 27


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Yemen, a stunning country, rich in history and culture, suffers from the stigma of child marriage. Driven by poverty and a “traditional” way of thinking, girls under the age of eight can be seen in wedlock with children of their own by the time they hit puberty.

How many of these young girls are ready for this? How many of them even know what they are getting into at such a young age? The United Nations statistics show that this kind of practice is prevalent and that one in nine girls in developing countries will be married, whether they are forced or coerced, by the age of 15. If nothing is done about this by 2020, the U.N. says an estimated 14.2 million girls a year will become child brides.

Yemen is an ultra-conservative society  where women and young girls are the ones who endure the strict reality of these social constraints. One of the results is child marriage, which has both physical and emotional consequences and can be life shattering, even fatal.

Early marriage has a harmful effect on “the child, the family and society at large,” a political sociology professor at Sana’a University, Abdulmaki Shamson, recently said in an interview with The Media Line.

“The girls are affected physically and psychologically. The developing body of the young girl is not ready to get married and deliver babies. Many young wives die while giving birth,” he said.

These young girls need a long-term solution to this phenomenon. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Lack of education on this matter inside Yemen’s rural areas is the single most shielding factor. There is a need to create awareness in those rural communities in order to shed light on how detrimental child marriage can be on a young girl’s health and society as a whole.

The educational impact is key; providing girls with more choices while helping generate a change in the families’ attitudes. Married girls often drop out of school, leaving them illiterate and unskilled, thus prevented from ever achieving self-sufficiency. A shift in thinking is also necessary.


A chance for a childhood

This communion robs many young females of their innocence, a chance at having a full adolescence and, for the most part, a future. Instead, long-life damage is being caused to young women and girls who are undergoing an existence they are not ready for; health problems, suffering, domestic abuse and marital rape.

Girls are now severely suffering from health problems caused by pregnancies. Early teenage pregnancy carries a high risk of life threatening obstructed labor due to undeveloped narrow hips, in addition to other conditions, such as fistula.

Fistula usually develops as a result of prolonged labor. The unborn child presses against the mother’s birth canal, cutting off blood supply to surrounding tissues, which inevitably causes the tissue to disintegrate and rot away.

Yemen is one country with the highest rates of maternal mortality in the Middle Eastern region. These early marriages have cost many girls their lives.

There have been copious calls by the international community and human rights organizations urging the Yemeni government to set the minimum age for child marriage at 18. But, both Yemeni officials and certain religious authorities have profusely rejected that. This, among other things, like poverty, is important for the government to address immediately. Poverty is rife in Yemen and is one of the main reasons Yemeni girls are married off.

Yemen’s current political crisis has put this issue amongst other gender concerns at the bottom of the political priority list. However, the Yemeni government can instead take this chance for a clean slate and genuinely show its commitment to addressing this spectacle by protecting the rights of all its citizens; for the most part, its women and young girls.

International donors and the Yemeni government need to throw their weight behind this; school learning, understanding and being educated is a human right. It will also give the Yemeni people a chance to better understand the consequences of having their young girls married at such an early age. The government needs to offer these essential services, a standard responsibility for a ruling authority.

Child marriage exacerbates many of the social and economic problems in Yemen, hindering the country from making further progress. Girls should not be forced to be wives or mothers, especially at an age where they cannot even attempt to understand the responsibility of having a family. Women and young girls are human beings that deserve a healthy, happy life, which is free from fear and pain.


Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English.

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