Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Little Girls Not Protected by Yemeni Marriage Law

SANA’A, Oct. 31 — Members of parliament from different political parties jumped at each other with sticks and shoes during a heated debate on the minimum age of marriage.

This debate took place during a parliamentary session on Wednesday Oct. 27 which was to vote on the controversial article No. 15 about the minimum age of marriage in the Personal Status Law.

“Now discussion of this issue is postponed indefinitely,” said MP Zaid Al-Shami of the conservative opposition Islah Party.

This article includes the latest amendments to the law which stipulates that girls can only be married after they reach puberty, but does not include penalties if the opposite occurs.

“Thank God the new amendment isn’t approved in the parliament,” said Hooria Mashhour, deputy chair of the Women's National Committee, the government body responsible for women’s issues.

She explained that the current amendment gives the authority to the father to have his daughter married off at any age, but gives her the right to cancel the marriage once she reaches puberty.

“They say it is only a marriage contract on paper and the actual consummating of the marriage will happen only if the girls are old enough for sexual intercourse. But what really happens is that the husband takes his wife to bed regardless of her age,” she said.

Al-Shami played down the issue of early marriage in Yemen, and said that these debates are only a distraction from the more important needs Yemeni women have such as education and health care.

“Around 70 percent of Yemeni women are illiterate, and 50 percent of primary health care services do not reach women. And in some villages women do not inherit which is against Islamic law,” he added. “Still all women of all ages should not be married unless they consent to the marriage according to Islamic jurisprudence, and consent should be the issue here not age.”

Yemen along with Saudi Arabia are the only Islamic countries who have not yet legislated a minimum age for marriage. Although like in Yemen, there have been debates in Saudi Arabia on this issue. According to a June 2010 BBC report, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has promised new measures after a series of high profile cases involving young brides.

In Yemen, the issue made international headlines when Nujood Ali was married off in 2008 when she was only nine years old.

Yemen signed The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984. The CEDAW mentions the right to protection from child marriage in article 16, which states: "The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage.”

"While marriage is not considered directly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, child marriage is linked to other rights – such as the right to express their views freely, the right to protection from all forms of abuse, and the right to be protected from harmful traditional practices – and is frequently addressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child,” continued the convention.

Although Yemen ratified this convention, Yemeni law doesn’t define a minimum age of marriage. Due to media hype on the issue of Nujood, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood proposed 18 as the minimum age for marriage for both boys and girls.

In February 2009, almost one year after Nujood’s case, the law went to the parliament for discussion. The Woman's National Committee, which is the government organization responsible for women’s issues, made new amendments on the article and has been promoting it in the parliament.

The proposal defines the minimum marriage age at 17 for men and women. The proposal also defines penalties for those who marry their daughters under 17, and for the husband as well. The Minister of Justice approved the proposal and passed it to the parliament for discussion.

“The Justice Minister approved the proposal as a whole, but when it reached the parliament the points about the penalties disappeared,” said Mashhour.

After debates in parliament the article was passed at 17 years old only to be cancelled the next day by 23 parliamentarians who complained that the voting process was not legal.

One of those is MP Al-Shami who said that a girl is ready to be married off right after reaching puberty if she has a “completely grown physique.”
From here.

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