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Death of eight-year-old Yemeni child bride spurs nation to action

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In an especially atrocious example of disregarding basic human rights, an eight-year-old girl in Yemen died of internal injuries following her wedding night. The shameful practice is still legal in the Middle Eastern country. This latest atrocity has fanned the flames of international opinion, prompting officials to address this ongoing issue.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The girl victim, named Rawan, from the northern Yemeni town of Haradh, died a few days after being married off to a 40-year-old man. Residents of the town told reporters that Rawan's cause of death was internal bleeding, believed to be the result of sexual intercourse that tore her uterus and other organs.

Yemen's Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour has declared that enough is enough. She told CNN that the growing anger over Rawan's case has presented Yemen with an opportunity to finally do the right thing.

"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," Mashhour said, "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."

Many surrounding the case say they have been forbidden to discuss details with the media, saying officials there were actively downplaying what had happened.

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

In a shameful truth about the Yemeni culture, many parents here say they are forced to sell off their girls to older, wealthier men.

Law enforcement officials here call these stories "baseless."

"Residents heard this story from one another and it spread very quickly, like a rumor," Mohammed Ahmed, head of Haradh's police department. Rawan's father had reportedly 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 says 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.

"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," Al-Qureshi says.

"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."

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