Fathers Decided Their Children’s Marriages

National Yemen

Asma al-Mohattwari

Areej was five years old when her father determined her fate. He was chewing Qat with his friend and his seven-year-old son. Areej appeared from the door smiling to her father and his friend said, “Areej should marry my son Ahmed.” The father accepted his request with a big smile and said, “ten years from now then we will make a huge wedding for them.”

The ten years passed and Ahmed’s father came to Areej’s father to determine the day of the wedding. But Areej wanted to continue her study. Her mother was in agreement with her daughter and refused to marry her by force. The father told his friend they changed their mind but his friend asked him for a million riyals as compensation for breaking his promise. In the end, they got married and her mother could do nothing to stop it.

This is not just a problem for girls, it’s also for boys whose fate was decided while they are kids.

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.

In the previous years, especially in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) time, 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 i sometimes find 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,” she said.

According to al-Motakel, the worst type of damage and violence is 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.”

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 Shatha 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, 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,” she said.

In addition to all the bad affects of the early marriage, it also affects health and psychological condition. Dr. Zianb al-Kazzan, an obstetrician, said that most girls who marry during childhood experience severe bleeding on the first day of their marriage. Also, their small body size is unprepared for pregnancy, which may lead to fatal risks for their children.

Early marriage can also cause severe psychological problems. Dr. Ebtsam Zaid, a psychologist, said that girls who marry underage often suffer from depression and anxiety. Underage brides are also prone to increased mental and psychological pressure due to their inability to deal with the complex issues of marital relations and motherhood.

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