Skip to main content

Yemen minister on child marriage: Enough is enough

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Hakim Almasmari, CNN
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
Hooria Mashhour, Yemeni minister of Human Rights, at the 2013 Humanitarian Response Plan in Dubai on January 22, 2013.
Hooria Mashhour, Yemeni minister of Human Rights, at the 2013 Humanitarian Response Plan in Dubai on January 22, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The girl was reportedly married off to a 40-year-old man
  • "It's time to end this practice," minister says
  • Police call the report "baseless"
  • In Yemen, the issue of child marriage is complicated

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen's human rights minister wants child marriage outlawed after an 8-year-old girl reportedly died of internal injuries that she suffered on her wedding night.

When reports emerged last week that a girl named Rawan, from the northern Yemeni town of Haradh, died a few days after being married off to a 40-year-old man, Yemenis were horrified.

International outrage quickly grew, as the alleged incident highlighted once again the extremely controversial issue of child marriage in Yemen -- a country where the practice is still legal.

Residents of Haradh told local media outlets that Rawan's cause of death was internal bleeding, believed to be the result of sexual intercourse that tore her uterus and other organs.

Local officials, however, have denied the story is true.

11-year-old: I ran away from being sold
Covering Yemen

Amidst the numerous claims and counterclaims, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen's human rights minister, has declared enough is enough — telling CNN that the growing anger over Rawan's case has presented Yemen with an opportunity to finally do the right thing.

Yemeni girl from YouTube wants education, not marriage

"This isn't the first time a child marriage has happened in Yemen, so we should not focus only on this case," Mashhour said.

"Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It's time to end this practice."

"I personally have (talked to) the human rights coordinator for the ministry on the ground in Haradh," said Mashhour, "and he informed me that nearly everyone he spoke to is denying the story, but he feels strongly suspicious. We feel people may be hiding information due to fear."

CNN spoke with several locals who requested anonymity, as they feared possible reprisals. Many said they'd been ordered to stop discussing the case with the media, insisting officials there were actively downplaying what had happened.

"No one is talking about this story because its an embarrassment," said one resident, "but this is what poverty can do to people."

Photos: Trading childhood for marriage

Many Yemenis say they are forced to sell off their girls to older, wealthier men.

Mohammed Ahmed, head of Haradh's police department, called the reports "baseless."

"Residents heard this story from one another and it spread very quickly, like a rumor," Ahmed said -- adding that Rawan's father had been called into the town's police station for questioning and had denied the incident.

"When he came to us he brought a little girl with him who he said was Rawan to prove his case, and they were both photographed together by the police," Ahmed said.

Yemeni child rights advocate Ahmed Al-Qureshi told CNN he's been investigating the case for more than a week and there's still a lot of confusion surrounding what exactly happened. He's demanding more transparency from officials.

Married at 13 to a man in his 70s

"The government is informing us that the Rawan is in their custody and still alive, while other local sources are saying that she was secretly buried," said Al-Qureshi, who heads up Seyaj, one of Yemen's leading children's rights groups.

"The government is refusing to allow us to visit the girl in their custody," he said. "The evidence we have now cannot prove that Rawan was killed, and that is why we need the government's cooperation."

In Yemen, deeply tribal and conservative, the issue of child marriage is an extremely complicated one. According to rights group Human Rights Watch , more than half of all young girls there are married before age 18. About 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15.

In the wake of Rawan's case, the group issued a statement urging Yemen to "protect its girls from the devastating effects of early marriage by setting 18 as the minimum age for marriage by law."

HRW added that "the current political transition and drafting process for a new constitution offer a unique opportunity for the Yemeni government to enact laws protecting the rights of girls."

"Thousands of Yemeni girls have their childhood stolen and their futures destroyed because they are forced to marry too young," said Liesl Gerntholtz, HRW's women's rights director. "The Yemeni government should end this abusive practice."

In 2009, Yemen's parliament passed legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 17. But conservative parliamentarians argued the bill violated Islamic law, which does not stipulate a minimum age of marriage, and the bill was never signed.

Activist groups and politicians are still trying change the law, but more than 100 leading religious clerics have said restricting the age of marriage is "un-Islamic."

Over the last few years, several Yemeni child bride cases have emerged that have shocked the world.

In 2008, 10-year-old Nujood Ali became a heroine to Yemeni girls and an international sensation when she went to a court in Sanaa and asked a judge for a divorce. After a highly publicized trial, she was granted one.

In 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni bride died of internal bleeding following intercourse three days after she was married off to an older man, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

Over the summer, an 11-year-old Yemeni girl named Nada Al-Ahdal became an internet sensation when a video of her accusing her parents of trying to marry her off in exchange for money was uploaded to YouTube and quickly went viral. While her parents denied Nada's story, and child rights activists questioned the veracity of her claims, the video was still viewed by millions of people.

Despite repeated attempts, CNN has been unable to reach Rawan's father for comment.

No sanctuary for Syria's young female refugees

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1732 GMT (0132 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT