Minister of Social Affairs calls for amending marriage age [Archives:2008/1162/Local News]

May 9 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, June 8 ) After Yemen Times broke the story about 8-year-old Nojoud's divorce case last month, the government is now looking for a solution to prevent early marriages in Yemen by creating a new law.

“Recently the case of early marriage in Yemen has come to light, especially after the divorce of the little girl last month,” said Amatalrazaq Hummad, the Minister of Social Affairs. The minister said in a previous interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Watan that members of Yemeni Parliament are aiming to change the personal status law by altering the minimum marriage age in Yemen. The current personal status law sets the legal marriage age at 15 years or above, but does not define any kind of punishment or consequences against those families who force their daughters to marry while they are under this age.

“The numbers of underage girls who get married in Yemen are increasing, [so] the government should pay attention and stop this phenomenon by changing the law,” said Hummad.

According to a new field study conducted by the Women and Development Study Center affiliated with Sana'a University, girls in many parts of Yemen, especially in rural areas, get married on average between 12 to 13-years-old.

According to the same field study, the rate of child marriage among females is approximately 52 percent in Yemen, compared to less than seven percent among males. The study also made a statistical study based on a random sample of 1,495 couples, and concluded that there is a huge age gap between spouses. The study revealed that among these couples, the average marriage age is approximately 15-years-old for women and 21-years-old for men. It also indicated that the average marriage age varies from one geographical area to another. For example, it showed that girls in Hodeidah and Hadramout get married at an average age of eight, while in Mukalla the average age was 10.

“The sharia (Islamic Law) and the national law do not forbid [child marriage]; however, there is an increasing tendency to create a special law for girls who get married at a young age,” said Hummad.

For a number of years, studies have been made concerning early marriage in Yemen in order to stop it and create limitations for it, but so far there has been no success.

The constant attempts by the government-sponsored Women's National Committee, feminist organizations and civil society in Yemen, along with 61 Parliament members, resulted in a bill which would change the minimum marriage age to 18 for both males and females. However, Parliament's Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee rejected the request, claiming there are no legislative grounds to impose such a law based on its understanding of Islam.

Eight-year-old Nojoud was the first female child in Yemen to obtain a divorce from her 30-year-old husband. The marriage was arranged between her father and her ex-husband, neither of whom were prosecuted. Nojoud's case received local and international media attention and became a hotly contested issue in Yemen.