Yemen's new constitution must ban child marriages, advocates say
At least 14 percent of nation's young women married off before the age of 15
A National Dialogue in Yemen, one of the Middle East's poorest nations, is bringing together a cross section of society to map the country's future with the writing of a new constitution. High on the list is the banning of child marriages, in a country where 14 percent of all young women are married off before the age of 15.
Child marriage in Yemen stymies girls' education and jeopardizes their health when they have babies before their bodies are ready. It also increases the risk of sexual and domestic abuse.
"Child marriage is a huge problem in Yemen. It affects many thousands of girls every year and causes devastating emotional and physical harm," Rothna Begum, Human Rights Watch (HRW) women's rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa says. "Right now Yemen has a unique opportunity to have a constitution that sets the minimum age of marriage at 18."
Yemen's president was ousted last year during the "Arab spring" following a popular uprising. The country is now taking baby steps to map out its news destiny with the writing of a new constitution.
Begum recently visited Yemen to press for a child marriage ban. She says that many poor families there marry off young daughters to save on expenses and obtain dowry money. More than half of Yemen's female population is married before 18 years of age, according to 2006 data from the United Nations and Yemen's government.
Currently, Yemen has no minimum age for marriage. It is illegal for a husband to have sex with his bride until she has reached puberty, but there is no penalty for men who break this law. In a bitter Catch 22, marital rape is not a crime in Yemen.
"Much older men are exploiting the situation of poverty-stricken families to marry very, very young girls," Begum said. "It's completely legal. And if they rape them under the age of puberty, there is no criminal penalty."
She's urging Yemen authorities to revive a draft law on child marriage that has been stalled in parliament since 2009.
In addition, child marriage stymies girls' education and jeopardizes their health when they have babies before their bodies are ready. It also increases the risk of sexual and domestic abuse.
Worldwide, girls who give birth between 10 and 14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women who give birth in their early 20s.
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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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