Marriage and divorce: Can we invent a new Yemeni style? [Archives:2007/1017/Reportage]

January 18 2007

For Yemen Times
Marriage: The union of two people, two families, two souls and two bodies that must work as one mind in synergy and synchronicity.

Divorce: The breakup of futures, disintegrating rotten pasts, incomplete hopes and broken promises.

For one Yemeni family, it means a son again is depending on his mother and sisters to cook and clean up after him. In another, it means a daughter has returned empty-handed, brokenhearted, soulless and clueless about a future resembling the dusty streets of Sana'a.

And in yet another – countless Yemeni families, really – a horde of children now sit unaware of father or mother and unaware what impacts life's adult decision making has or will have upon them. Such children later will aim to recreate the very world they fell out of through no fault of their own beyond being born to two people who didn't understand the depth of their commitment to each other.

If every Yemeni of marriageable and divorceable age would have a fortnight-long dream wherein they went from married bliss to nightmarish divorce, stewed with the daily goings-on of life that would put them on the growing roster of talaaq (divorce), maybe, just maybe, they'd tread more carefully when jumping onto the marriage/divorce bandwagon.

Because if one goes into it with memories of harsh or wrong words, arguments, missed opportunities to reconcile and the utter ridiculousness of Hollywood/Bollywood glamour – perpetual good looks, ageless beauty, perfectly made food dishes, instant gratification, me-and-only-me-first atrocities – one just might never marry!

On the other hand, if one truly learned something from this hypothetical experience, at the very least, he or she would think 10 times before speaking or acting on anything the “monkey-like” mind might entice into reaching out for the ever-elusive golden branch beyond the blue yonder.

You'd be surprised at all the heartaches that could be avoided, as well as how many suggestions will come and go, but you won't act upon them because you know what road they'll lead you down.

Then again, are we Yemenis comfortable with such planning? Are we brave enough to understand that marrying off a son or daughter before age 18 without proper understanding of the real responsibilities of life actually is inhumane? That not teaching a child to project toward the future isn't against our religion so much as it's culturally unacceptable?

Can we at least agree that if we don't wake up and smell the coffee, we'll never leave the vicious, elliptical orbit we've launched ourselves into with our denials, disagreements and irresponsibility?

Let us face it, do we really know why we marry or have children? Ask a 24-year-old woman and compare it with a 12-year-old child and you'll instantly realize that the former is light years ahead of the latter because we deal with life according to our age and accumulated wisdom. For example, a 15-year-old will react like a 15-year-old, not like a 25-year-old and definitely not like a 35-year-old.

Do we marry off our children to get rid of or alleviate a burden, for money or status? What motivates such marriages? If the one marrying ends up better than he or she was at home, then that's a triumph for everyone included in the enterprise; however, if the trajectory leaves one worse off than before, something isn't right.

Then again, marriage isn't a substitute for child or slave labor. At least with Yemeni children selling on the streets, we know they're working and being paid for their services. Child marriages, on the other hand, disguise the child labor part of the agreement – not between the two spouses, but between the child's father or mother, with payment not to the child directly but rather to the donating family.

Sorry, but that's slavery. It's human trafficking – a child bought and sold. It's slavery because the woman has nothing to call her own – not the house, the children or even the dowry, which by Islamic law is hers, not her father's.