Political Analysis

Girl Summit 2014 Can’t Do More

Asma al-Mohattwari

Child, early, and forced marriages occur in every part of the world, affecting millions of girls every year. One in three girls in developing countries is married by the age of 18, and one in nine by the age of 15. Some are as young as eight.

In Yemen, 60% of women are married under the age of 18, according to a household survey conducted in 2003. At the time of the survey, one out of every four Yemeni girls surveyed were pregnant. The survey noted that early marriage impacts a girl’s education, health, and living status.

Yemen will discuss these issues in the Girl Summit. In July, the UK will host the first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilizing domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation. UNICEF will co-host the event.

This event will bring together women, girls and community leaders from the UK and overseas, alongside governments, international organizations and the private sector to agree on action to end FGM and CEFM within a generation.

In the previous years, especially in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) period, the most pressing topic concerning women was child marriage. Unfortunately, some women were supportive of child marriage. Dr. Entlaq al-Motakel, NDC member, said that rights are taken not given. Any earnings added to women’s conditions are because they are the fruits of the continued struggle.

 “I really was surprised when we sometimes found some women who were against women’s rights only because men in their parties don’t agree with those rights. They use religion to reject them. Islam is a religion of justice, fairness and does not accept the damage of women.”

According to al-Motakel, the worst type of damage and violence is the early marriage because it deprives the girl of her right to childhood and education. This causes social, health and psychological repercussions that are out of women’s hands to fully confront. “From this point, I see the adoption of determining the age of marriage as the most important decision against violence towards women.”

Though nothing has been implemented until now, it is because early and forced marriage is closely linked not only to habits but also to low levels of economic development. Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.

Academic studies say that 52% of Yemeni girls accept marriage in their early years to escape poverty. The study also said that boys are also affected by the phenomenon.

According to researchers, poverty is the primary cause of child marriage, while the second is lingering traditions such as a fear of spinsterhood, regarding women as a burden, and also the attractiveness of a rich person’s offer of marriage. Unfortunately, most movements against the issue have only targeted the second cause, ignoring the poverty element.

Yemen’s Personal Status Law of 1994 sets the minimum age of marriage at 15 years, but official sources say that amendments have made it ambiguous and unclear. The current law states that only a girl’s trustee has the right to decide whether she is ready for marriage, which greatly affects the government’s ability to act on the issue.

In 2013, the National Dialogue Conference came up with a new law that fixed the age of marriage at 18 years. Activist Shata al-Harazi says that the new marriage age is a landmark achievement for Yemeni women.

 “Religious movements differ in everything, and agree against women’s issues, but in the end, the civil groups were able to extract many rights for women. We are just waiting for these rights to become legislation and included in the constitution, and I’m sure that the Yemeni constitution will be one of the most progressive constitutions.”

Everyone keeps stalking about early marriage and issues related to women rights but until now it is all talk and no action. The Girl Summit may add nothing, only to share success stories and spread good practice in tackling these issues. It will hear from girls and women who have lived through the ordeal of FGM or CEFM. It will be great if they can provide affected girls more and to provide solutions to save other girls.