Middle East

Yemen police 'stop child's wedding'

Yemeni girls sitting at their school in the capital Sanaa (7 October 2013) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Child marriage is less of a threat to girls in the richer areas of Yemen, like the capital Sanaa

The human rights ministry in Yemen says that one of its officials has managed to stop the wedding of a nine-year-old girl, due to take place on Friday.

An official told the BBC it was the first such intervention to stop a child marriage in Yemen.

The child, Hiba, was due to have been married on 8 November in the southern city of Taiz.

The issue of young Yemeni girls being married off by their families has drawn growing international concern.

Some of the families are motivated by the traditional dowry system.

Hiba's story is not unusual in Yemen.

She is looked after by her father, who married again after Hiba's mother died.

An official from the local office of the human rights ministry heard about the planned wedding. The ministry has put the issue of child marriage at the very top of its agenda.

The official contacted the police station near where Hiba lives, and the police decided to intervene.

They spoke to Hiba's father and persuaded him not to marry his daughter off.

'Proud'

Fuad al-Ghaffari, a senior official in the office of the Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mashhour, said he was proud of the action taken by his colleague, as well as the police.

He told the BBC that it was the first time such an intervention had taken place.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption These two Yemeni girls, pictured in 2008, celebrated their divorces with a party

The women's rights group, Equality Now, has listed the stories of some of the young girls who have been through this experience.

Wafa, it says, was married at 11 to a 40-year-old who raped and tortured her. A lawyer hired by the group and the Yemeni Women Union managed to arrange her divorce.

Another 11-year-old, Fawziya, died in childbirth.

Salwa, a 12-year-old girl, killed herself by throwing herself off a roof.

A recent, widely-reported case, which was not officially corroborated, of an eight-year-old girl said to have died of internal injuries after her wedding night, prompted renewed calls for action.

'Progress'

The Yemeni Human Rights Ministry is trying to build pressure at every level of government to bring in a legally-sanctioned minimum marriage age to stop such abuse.

Officials there say they are making some progress, suggesting that the minister of legal affairs may soon propose a draft law.

There have also been moves to try to enshrine in the new constitution being drafted a clause to end child marriage and make the minimum age 18. But powerful traditional elements, including religious clerics and tribal leaders, remain opposed and say they will block this.

As for Hiba, her fate still remains in the balance.

Without any legal sanction, human rights officials say there is nothing to stop her still being married off at a later date.

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