Last updated: 8 December, 2011

Rights group calls for child marriage ban in Yemen

Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged Yemen’s new government to move to halt the abuse of girls in the Arabian peninsula country by setting the minimum age for marriage at 18.

The watchdog issued the appeal in a report it said “documents the lifelong damage to girls who are forced to marry young” in Yemen where the lack of a minimum age for marriage has seen some forced to wed “as young as eight.”

“Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list,” Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher at HRW, said in a statement.

“But now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future.”

Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, who will on Saturday receive the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, has criticised her government’s failure to ban child marriage, according to the New York-based watchdog.

HRW said that about 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before they turn 15, and 52 percent before the age of 18, citing data from the Yemeni government and United Nations.

It stressed that a ban on child marriage should be a priority for reform in Yemen following months of deadly demonstrations against the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“Girls should not be forced to be wives and mothers,” said Khalife.

“As Yemen undergoes political change, leaders should seize the opportunity to correct an injustice that does enormous harm and set the country on a new course of social justice, including equality for women and girls.”

Yemen’s Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi issued a decree on Wednesday approving the formation of a government of national unity as agreed under a Gulf-brokered deal aimed at ending months of bloody unrest.

Its formation is in line with a Gulf Cooperation Council plan, which is backed by the United Nations, for Saleh to transfer his powers to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for him and his family.