Muslim women have rallied against a ban on child marriages, decrying any attempt to deprive little girls of their legal right to be sold to older men as un-Islamic.
A mob of fully veiled women waving the Koran descended on the Yemeni capital to voice their opposition to any ban on child marriage; one protester had this to say:
“It is against Islam to set a minimum age for marriage. A girl can get married when she’s an adult – for some girls that is when they are 15 and for others when they are nine.”
Many of the most prominent advocates of a ban on child marriage are women, but apparently it is not only men who are interested in preserving the “right” of a child to marry.
After its unification in 1990, Yemen set the minimum age for marriage at 15, but this law was never in enforced and was eventually abolished in 1999, meaning there was no minimum age for marriage.
In 2009 a new law setting the age at 17 was passed by parliament, but it was subsequently rejected by the nation’s Sharia Committee as being un-Islamic.
High profile cases of child marriage in Yemen have stiffened calls for the law to be reinstated; in one famous case, a 10-year-old girl was sold to a man for $1,000 – she eventually fled from him after he mistreated her, but courts would not allow her to divorce him as her poor father could not refund the “dowry.”
A lengthy legal battle eventually saw her allowed to divorce her “husband.” The judge who presided over her case supported a minimum age, though not due to concerns over the rights of children but instead out of fears that a little girl might not make a good mother:
“I support the idea of setting a minimum age for marriage that is not less than 18 years old. When a man marries a child and they have children, then you end up with a child raising a child.”
An MP stresses that puberty and not any arbitrary age of consent is the appropriate measure of ability to marry:
“We view a child as mature when it reaches puberty, not when it’s 18.”
He opposes any ban on the grounds that under Islam youthful sex can take place legitimately within a marriage, unlike in decadent western nations:
“We understand that young people are sexually active, but unlike in the West, they can marry here and not partake in immoral behavior.”
This of course conveniently ignores the likelihood of a husband being much older than the bride, or the issue of consent.
The UN estimates that half of all marriages in Yemen occur under the age of 18, and in some areas half are estimated to occur below 15.