"We Don't Divorce Little Girls," Said the Judge. "But How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?" Said the Little Girl.
Nujood Ali made world headlines in 2008 when she was granted a divorce in Yemen at the age of 10. She had been married a year to a man who beat and raped her. So she decided to go to a courthouse and speak to a judge. Her case prompted other children to protest forced marriage.
Yemen is certainly not alone in allowing children under 18 to marry without their consent. According to UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, several countries in sub-Sahara Africa and in South Asia, including India, have high rates in girls marrying before the age of 18.
But Yemen is one of the few countries in the Middle East without laws restricting child marriage and women, despite the turmoil in the country, have fought this practice. One of them is Tawakkol Karman, a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a journalist, a women's rights activist -- and associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Slavery and Rape
Human Rights Watch, in a 54-page report, urges Yemen to set a minimum marriage age of 18, particularly now that the country may emerge from turmoil and has a power-sharing government. The upheavals have left little time for a discussion of marriage and abuse, tantamount to slavery and rape.
A 2006 field study revealed that child marriage among Yemeni girls under 18 reached 52.1%, compared to 6.7% among males. A shocking 14 percent of the girls were married before the age of 15, particularly in poor rural areas, HRW said.
The Yemeni Supreme Council for Women's Affairs attempted to introduce a bill to setting an age for marriage at 18, and then lowered it to 17. But the Sharia legislative committee in parliament rejected such a proposal every year, saying it was un-Islamic to set a minimum age for marriage and prevented it from being debated.
Child marriage, which usually results in immediate pregnancy, stunts the growth of girls, few of them ever returning to school. The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) says they are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20 to 24, adding that the "vast majority of deaths take place within marriage." (Boys are seldom forced into marriage).
Most adolescents become pregnant before their bodies are mature enough to safely deliver a child. When they die, the result is often orphan children who roam the streets.