Marriage & Family Problems in Yemen [Archives:1998/35/Focus]

August 31 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
Dr. Salah Haddash,
Managing Editor,
Yemen Times
In some Arab countries such as the UAE, the state is directly involved in the marriages of its citizens. This is for two main reasons: to discourage its citizens from marrying foreigners and to give loans for men to help them towards paying the dowries. In 1976 in (north) Yemen a law was issued to give the largest part of the dowry. But this law was not fully implemented. A similar law was also issued in the southern part of Yemen, which was implemented literally. Nowadays, there is no policy to regulate this issue.
In Islamic traditions, the bridegroom bears all financial burdens. In Yemen dowries demanded by rich families can reach million of riyals. Since marriage in Yemen is mainly a family affair, the family of the bridegroom helps its son with the required money. High dowries lead to increasing the marriage age. Young people now study and embark on a career before getting married. So marriage age in Yemen now is about 27 years. A young man graduates from secondary school at 18 years of age, spends two years in the army, a minimum of four years at university and may be two years at work to save money.
Inter-tribal marriages are more costly than those within one tribe or one family. This is usually due to the fact that individual tribes are very proud of their lineage, so they demand a high dowry to give their daughters a high status. They also wish to appear quite proud in the eyes of the rest of society.
Marriage is often considered a show of riches when families have the chance to display their material wealth by holding lavish banquets and wedding parties.
In view of the rising cost of living, the state should try to raise people’s awareness of the importance of a solid nucleus family for the overall stability of society.
Choosing a Bride
Usually choosing a wife is left to the family, a man seldom chooses his own wife. New generations are gradually changing this habit by directly choosing at the work or study place. The telephone is also a modern tool of getting to know members of the opposite sex. Love is increasingly becoming the main criteria for choosing a spouse, which is quite a positive sign.
Marriage into a different class is not always easy in Yemen, because of the exclusivity of various social groups such as the Hashemites (descendants of the Prophet). There is now a slow but gradual process of opening up. Wealth and career have begun to break these barriers.
There are two very closed social groups: Akhdam and the Shia of Haraz who are also known as the Buhra sect. The first are almost completely outcast by society; while, the latter are very exclusive in their nature. Thus the various groups of the Yemeni society are not fully integrated. As is well known, intermarriages lead to various types of genetic diseases and defects.
Another group that has low status in the Yemen society in general include those with menial jobs such as butchers, barbers, blacksmiths, cobblers, etc.
Working Women
Yemeni men more often than not prefer to marry women with little or no education. This is in order to keep the woman at home to bring up the children and do the household chores.
Men may also force their working wives to quit their jobs, especially if the women does not contribute to the household budget. Hence, lack of economic independence makes the women unable to take part in major family decisions.
Family Planning
Families in Yemen live rather spontaneously in almost all aspects of their lives, including family planning. The number of children is left to chance, leading to the noticeable problem of rapid population growth.
Having a large number of children may lead to numerous social problems within the family and without. In a huge family, parents may not be able to completely fulfill their duties in raising their children.
Due to successive pregnancies, Yemeni women often suffer from gynecological problems.
Second Wife
The Yemeni law, which is based on Islamic Sharia, allows the man to marry up to four wives. It is provided that he treats them equally well and has the financial ability to support them and their children. Polygamy is quite widespread in rural areas in Yemen. In urban areas, it is usually well-off men who marry more than one wife. The second wife is often quite young.
Divorce rates are not high in Yemeni society. It is more spread in urban than in rural areas. Having the right to marry more than one wife makes them eschew divorce in favor of marrying another women instead. This is despite the fact that legal divorce procedures are relatively easy for a man to go through in the Yemeni law. A husband can just go into a court an announce his divorce from his wife and have officially endorsed.
Marrying Foreigners
An appreciable number of Yemeni men are married to foreign women, especially those who studied abroad. The majority of these men are married to women from countries mainly in the Horn of Africa, Indonesia, India. Second come those with wives from the former socialist countries, followed by those who have wives from other Arab countries with a minority married to Western women.
The Yemeni nationality law allows the children from a Yemeni father and a foreign mother to acquire the Yemeni nationality. However, children from a Yemeni mother and a foreign father do not have an automatic right to obtain the Yemeni nationality, even if they were born and currently live in Yemen.
Role of the State
It is not favorable for the state to be directly involved in the marriage process. However, there seems to be a national need for the state to possibly take the following measures:
1- In order to build a cohesive nation in Yemen, the state should encourage intermarriage between different tribes, sects, regions, etc, by providing financial incentives for those who marry into different social groups.
2- Public awareness must be raised regarding the importance of reducing dowries.
3- The public servants salaries should be raised to help them meet the demands of their families.
4- Public service such as health care, education, etc, must be improved in order to reduce family expenditure in these areas in the private sector.