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Sunday, July 13, 2008

FORCED INTO MARRIAGE WHAT DO YOU THINK?

8-year-old girl's divorce is finalized while a law to prevent early marriage stalls

By: Hamed Thabet



Nojoud reciving gifts in Yemen Times office in Sana'a.
Eight-year-old Nojoud is now safe after an anonymous donor paid her 30-year-old husband to divorce her. Although this chapter of her life has closed, there are many other Yemeni girls who still suffer from early marriage and its consequences. Feminist groups in Yemen are urging the Parliament to legally define a minimum marriage age. However, there is a long way to go before girls like Nojoud can be free from detrimental early marriages.



SANA'A, 16 April — A few months ago, Nojoud was an average 8-year-old girl from a poor family. Then Nojoud's father decided to marry her off to a man more than three times her age. Overnight, Nojoud became a wife, enduring physical and sexual abuse for two months until she ran away with the help of her uncle and filed a court case against her father and her husband.

On April 15, with support from her lawyer Shatha Mohammed Nasser and Judge Abud Al-Khaleaq Ghowber, Nojoud paid her way out of marriage with YR 100,000 from an anonymous donor in the Emirates and happily became an 8-year-old divorcee.

"This was the first time a girl came to us for a divorce. We are going to do our best to push the parliament to change the marriage law," said Judge Ghowber.

"I am so happy to be free and I will go back to school and will never think of getting married again," Nojoud said joyfully. "It is a good feeling to be rid of my husband and his bad treatment."

She said that she felt lucky that she did not have to continue in such a marriage and a live out a life similar to her sisters, who had been married young [though not as young as Nojoud] and have alr
Nojoud with her lawyer in the court.
eady bore children.

"Although Nojoud does not know her real birthday, I believe this day she was born again and it would be apt to celebrate this day as the first day of her new life," said Nasser.



Early marriage in Yemen:

According to the International Center for Research on Women's 2007 statistics, Yemen is one of 20 developing countries where early marriage is common. Nearly half of all Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18.

Most women have their first child immediately after their first menstruation cycle and are likely to have a child every 12 months during their reproductive lifespan. Yemen's fertility rate is extremely high, with an average 6.3 children per each woman, and the country also has some of the highest mother and infant mortality rates worldwide.

According to research on early marriage in Yemen from Oxfam and the United Nations Population Fund, there are severe physical consequences that result from early marriage and subsequent early childbirth such as nutritional anemia, post-partum hemorrhages, obstetric fistula (a disorder that affects the bladder and causes leaking of urine or feces), plus mother and infant mortality.

Additionally, many girls like Nojoud develop irreparable psychological complexes from early marriage and the forced sexual encounters that accompany it. Early marriage also contributes to divorce and family problems.<

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"I hated nights because they usually meant that my husband would come to my bed. I used to run from him and he would chase me and beat me and do his thing. I pray that my younger sisters do not face the same fate," said Nojoud. Now the 8-year-old is living with her uncle and his family in relative safety.



A divided society

The Yemeni personal status law stipulates that a girl cannot be wed until she is ready for intercourse, which in essence leaves the judgment up to the girl's parents or guardians.

Judge Ghowber explained that early marriages are usually the fault of the parents. He insisted that there must be increased awareness among Yemeni families in order to avoid these serious mistakes.

A number of Yemeni religious scholars, including some in the Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee in the Parliament, say that since there is no religious statement defining a minimum age for marriage, then early marriage is perfectly fine if not desirable.

Other scholars and religious authorities, like Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar, the Minister of Endowment, want to create legislation to prevent parents from marrying their girls off at a young age and to prevent religious sheikhs from endorsing such marriages.

"Those who approve of girls marrying at 13, 14 or even below 18, are barbaric men who abuse childhood and are irresponsible," said religious scholar Yahiya Al-Najar, the former Minister of Endowment.

He explained that there should be a minimum age for boys and girls to marry in order to complete their phys

ical and mental development and so that they can manage the responsibilities of marriage and raising a family.

Al-Hitar said that the minimum age of marriage should be 16-years-old, no less. He added that previous religious bodies in charge of jurisprudence wrote such laws in 1976 and in 1988.

"Those who say that defining a minimum age for marriage is un-Islamic do not understand the religion at all," said Al-Hitar. "Defining a minimum age of marriage is a need dedicated by life's nature."

The Yemeni parliament is equally divided between MPs who believe in safe motherhood (and thereby banning early marriage) and those who don't. Deputy speaker of Parliament, MP Himyar Al-Ahmar, said that he supports the creation of legislation against early marriage, requested by the Women's National Committee, but prefers to forward the issue to the Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee, which is strongly against such legislation.

Rasheeda Al-Hamadani, chair of the Women's National Committee, promised to continue to raise awareness about the issue by holding workshops soon with religious leaders, MPs and decision makers.


" Baaraka-Allaahu Feekum - wa sal-Allaahu wa-sallam 'alaa Nabiyyinaa Muhammad, was-Salaam 'alaykum wa-Rahmatullaahi wa-Barakaatuhu.   
Ummismail                             
 
 
 

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