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Yemen: Early Marriage Still Damaging Lives of Young Girls

Yemen: Early Marriage Still Damaging Lives of Young Girls

Arrived veiled, surrounded by two women from the left and right. Once she saw her mom, she simply jumped into her arms crying, as she also hugged her uncle seeking protection.

Her mother took off her veil (a traditional cover for the face in Yemen) saying: “Reem you look older with it, take it off so people would know that you are young, and let the prosecutor see you with your face shown”

That veiled girl was Reem Al-Noumairi at the public prosecution along with her mother and lawyer Shatha Nasser suing her father and husband, accusing them of beating her and forcing her to get married, after the court had refused her divorce request three weeks ago.

Reem is a 12-year-old who went to court on the 7th of July in Sana’a asking for a divorce from her 31-year-old cousin to whom she was married to by force by her father, almost two month ago.

Yemen Post had the chance to meet both the girl and her lawyer as well as the mother at the public prosecution and followed the lawsuit filed against Reem’s father and husband.

Reem is not only a victim of early marriage but also a victim of a family break up.

How was such a little girl suddenly a married woman in a span of less than an hour?

Reem starts telling her story to Yemen Post. “My parents got divorced almost three months ago and the first thing I remember after their divorce is that I chose to stay with my mom and my little brother chose to stay with my father. I live with my mother in a building in a small apartment in Sana’a, and that day (when I was kidnapped from my dad) Reem says, “My little brother called me to come down the stairs of the building, claiming that we would have lunch with our father. The first thing I saw was my father holding my arms tightly asking me not to say a word, and that we are going to my grandfather’s house”.

“I was at the house at 11 am in the morning and was married by 3 pm that same day. Everything was arranged and managed even before I knew what was really going on,” Reem said.

“I also remember my father threatening me all the time, raising his Gambia (a traditional Yemeni weapon used as a dagger) whenever I would speak or say anything when the judge was writing the marriage contract at the house,” Reem added.

“Afterwards, my so called husband took me to his village in Rada’ (250 km to the southwest of Sana’a) where I was always crying and trying to escape.”

“I tried to kill myself twice and I will kill myself if I go back to either my husband or father,” she added.

Reem also explains that her father used to call her mother on the phone when she was getting married telling her: “Are you crying? I want to hear you cry now. Cry! I’m getting your little girl married.”

Aisha Al-Numairi, Reem’s mother, told Yemen Post that Reem is only a child and because of this unaccepted marriage, she was simply deprived of enjoying her childhood.

“She was playing in the streets with her freinds and out of the no where this all happened.”

Reem’s father Anees Al-Numairi kidnapped her shortly after our divorce. He took her to his house and brought the marriage official and asked her to say ‘yes’ to all the marriage official questions, and was threatening her with death if she refused.

“My daughter called me days after she was kidnapped and told me that her father married her to her cousin,” said Aisha Al-Numairi. “Reem’s new husband took her back to her father after a while because he clearly saw that Reem would not accept living with him,” explains Reem’s mother.

Reem is still at Al-Amal Center for Girl’s Care today and whenever she goes out the center to court, two women are accompanied with her. “I don’t want to stay at the center anymore, take me home mother,” Reem crying to her mother and begging the prosecutor to have her leave the center.

Reem refuses the marriage for three reasons; first she is still young and unable to bear marital responsibilities. Second, she was married under force. Third, she was exposed to torture by her husband, father, mother-in-law and father-in-law.

According to Reems lawyer, the main reason for Reem’s marriage was for the father to get revenge from the mother through their daughter after their split. The lawyer added that the father also has a daughter who’s 20-years-old from a different wife, and still unmarried.

“My sister Yosra who is twenty isn’t married and was watching me while I was being beaten along with my little brother to whom my father said that this is the punishment for those wanting their mother,” Reem told the prosecutor.

Nojood’s Inspiration

Last April little 8-year-old Nojood was the first Yemeni young girl to go to court asking for divorce. Nojood opened the eyes of other girls to do as she did and somehow became their inspiration.

“I was with my husband in his village “in Hajja Governorate” along with his family, and my family live in Sana’a. Few days before I went to court, I told my family that I wanted to visit them and come to Sana’a, my husband wouldn’t let me, so I called my family in Sana’a who then told my husband to have me come to Sana’a,” Nojood told the Yemen Post.

“I think if a girl feels like she’s too young to get married she should go to court. When I told my family that I don’t want to be with this man and that I want a divorce, everyone was ignoring and paying no attention to how I felt. Then my stepmother told me “why don’t you go to court?”

I told to myself “OK, I will ask people where the court is”.

“When I reached the court I, asked people where the judge is, as they informed me that there are many, and which one in specific was I seeking. No one helped me so I waited until I saw a judge and told him, “excuse me judge, I want a divorce?”.

“The judge was a nice person who took me to his house to stay with his kids for three days and told my family that I’m getting a divorce.”

“I met Reem last week and she was taller than me but young. I was happy to realize that young married girls are now coming to court asking for divorce, I feel proud of myself, ” said Nujood.

Early marriage is one of the biggest development challenges in Yemen according to Naseem-Ur-Rehman, Chief Information Officer at UNICEF Sanaâ. A 2006 field study revealed that child marriage among Yemeni girls reached 52.1%, compared to 6.7% among males. The study, conducted by the Woman and Development Study Center, affiliated to Sanaâ University, looked at 1,495 couples.

A Mother of 8 and victim of early marriage

N.W who is now 45-years-old and mother of 8, was married at a young age. She talks about her own experience saying:

“When I was a child, about 12 or 13, beginning my adolescence, I noticed that my family started to watch me closely. At first I didn’t understand why my mom was looking through my things, inspecting them daily looking for something”.

She continues, “I didn’t know why she was asking if something strange happened to me that day. But then I realized that she was looking for evidence of me falling in love with some in the village. I knew that my mother was simply waiting for me to reach puberty so that the family would get me married to my cousin as soon as possible before I commit a sin through having an affair with any boy or even falling in love because I have reached adolescence.”

“I still remember the day I had my first period. One month later, I was married because my family believed that through marriage I wouldn’t make a mistake or have a forbidden relationship. They simply wanted to cover me and have me live with one man.”

“I’m not educated, I didn’t study but I feel as I have lost the right to live my childhood. I didn’t know anything about marriage neither did my mother talk to me about it before. I was afraid from the moment I saw a stranger (my husband), but I was lucky that he was a good person and gently talked to me. He waited until I was psychologically ready before making me indulge in sexual intercourse. But not every man is like this.”

“My family wanted to protect me, and I wouldn’t blame them now because I understand that they were trying to protect me, and the only way they had was through getting me married.”

Lack of education

Abdullah Harmal, a psychiatrist and professor at Sana’a University mentions that when young girls are married, they face serious physical and psychological problems because their minds and bodies are not developed enough for them to become wives and mothers. “The main reason of such a phenomena is the lack of education in schools as well as in the family. Illiteracy among Yemeni women is over 65 percent.”

He adds, “Poverty, which is forcing families to marry off their daughters to ease their financial situation is a vital reason for this, as we saw in the case of Nojoud.

Parents believe that if they marry off their daughters early, they will be able to protect their daughter’s honor and that of the family. Last March, a report by Save the Children Organization, in cooperation with Gender Development Research and Studies Center at Sana’a University entitled Gender Based Sexual Violence against Teenage Girls in the Middle East was published, explaining how young girls face such problems around the world, especially in Yemen.

According to the report, Yemeni girls are deprived of their childhood rights when they are prepared for motherhood at an early age. The report identified a strong relationship between early marriage and increased domestic violence against girls, as well as an increase in the number of divorces among young couples.

The Yemeni Parliament, through its Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee, rejected a request to amend the personal status law presented by the Women’s National Committee (WNC). Women’s movements and civil society in Yemen along with 61 parliament members have advocated a law that legislates a minimum marriage age of 18 for both males and females. However, the Jurisprudence Committee claims there are no legislative grounds to impose such a law in Islam.

Source: Yemen Post – 4 August 2008

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