Child marriage in Yemen
by Jennifer Geiser on November 17, 2014 - 11:56am
Although recently, the Yemenite legislative has set a minimum age for marriage, child marriage is still practiced in Yemen. Especially in rural areas with many poor people the conditions for girls are very precarious. I want to tell you more about child marriage in Yemen and introduce further literature about this topic.
The situation in Yemen
According to Human Rights Watch, around 52% of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18, and 14% before they turn 15. Until the law changed, it "allow[ed] girls of any age to wed, but it forbid sex with them until the indefinite time they [were] suitable for sexual intercourse." This law was interpreted very generously and is still not complied with properly. Before the law was set, the Sharia Legislative Committee of the government had repeatedly blocked attempts to raise marriage age to either 15 or 18. Yemeni Muslim activists argued that some girls are ready for marriage at the age of 9 (due to a citation that the prophet Mohammed himself married a 9-year-old girl). It is not without reason that Yemen ranks last in the recent Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum (Yemen ranks 142 out of 142).
There are a lot of threats that girls who are married young have to face: They often drop out of school, they are more likely to die in childbirth and they face a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse. Girls who do not want to marry are often forced to do so by their families.
"A Gendered Analysis of Child Marriage in Yemen"
Child marriage and its threats to girls are the field of attention of the scientific paper "A Gendered Analysis of Child Marriage in Yemen". It was published in December of 2010 in the Heinz Journal of the Heinz College of Pittsburgh. Beatriz Binkley, the author of the scientific paper, analyses the effects and causes of child marriage and ultimately gives policy recommendations.
The analysis does not only fit our topic of gender in Yemen; another reason why it is interesting to us is that it contains a sociological approach, namely the social relations approach. Its main declaration is that institutions such as the family and the state reinforce and reproduce social differences. In general, Beatriz Binkley analyses gender inequalities regarding the distribution of resources, responsibilities and power.
The author uses a very structured approach which makes it easy to understand the causes and effects. Both - effects and causes - are examined on an immediate, intermediate and long-term resp. structural basis.
Effects of child marriage
Immediate effects are forced sexual intercourse and with it physical and psychological harm as well as the withdrawal from school and with it the low literacy rate of women in Yemen. Intermediate effects are for example the effects on the bodies of the young women. "Girls who become [pregnant] before their bodies have fully developed face an [increase of] the likelihood of severe health problems for both mother and baby." (Binkley 2010, p.4) The early withdrawal from school brings with it further effects for the next generation: the children of these young mothers are likely to have bad education opportunities, many women are not able to participate in the workforce, neither do they have a lot of power or status. This increases the risk to be sexually abused. Long-term effects of child marriage are for example a low income per capita, a high infant mortality rate, youth unemployment, and ultimately, political instability.
Causes for child marriage
Beatriz Binkley seeks for causes on different levels of society, i.e. the family, the community, the market and the state.
On the family level, a cause for child marriage is the financial resources the family needs. Additionally, the families do not have to provide for one person more. Furthermore, a structural cause is the patrilineal society of Yemen. On the community level, marriage is a means to strengthen tribal relationships. Also, there is a high value set on virginity and moral virtue which brings with it a lack of knowledge about the physiology of girls. Unfortunately, women have to live by the idea men have created about women's religious identity. On the market level, women are mostly dependent on their husbands because in Yemen, women have a very limited access to the work force. Women are seen as consumers and thus as burdens, whereas men are seen as the providers. On the state level, an immediate cause is the problem that a lot of parents do not want to send their daughters to a mixed gender school, but Yemen has a lack of girls' schools. Furthermore, most of the official means to change the situation have failed. "[V]iolence against women is common and accepted in Yemen" (Binkley 2010, p.8), laws do not take into account the equality between the two genders, on the political stage, there are nearly no opportunities for women to be active participators, and the education system is not able to change the situation either.
Ultimately, Beatrice Binkley gives policy recommendations in order to try to make her analysis useful for real life. Her recommendations refer to education policies, the legislation, labor programs, media campaigns and to male-focused policies.
As to education policies, Binkley gives the idea of an education reform which takes into account that girls have to be able to attend school and that their literacy rates rise which would then have further positive externalities. A part of this policy can be the creation of more schools for only one gender and a schedule which is adapted to the household duties of the girls. Also, the number of female teachers has to be increased. Another idea is the financial support of families in order to give their children the possibility to attend school. As to legislation, a first step which is needed is the registration of marriages and births. This way, young women can proof with their birth certificate that they are not old enough to marry. Obviously, legislation has to initiate projects to fight domestic and sexual abuse. In order to pass such a legislation, religious and constitutional reasoning must be incorporated in the laws. The ideas Binkley gives for labor programs are special training programs which are also conducted in rural areas. In Binkley's point of view, it could be a good step to enable micro-loans for women. Media campaigns should inform families about "child development, family planning services, and women's legal rights." (Binkley 2010, p.11) To bear in mind that the Yemenite culture relies on stark religious beliefs, it is necessary to promote Islamic texts which show nonviolence and respect towards women.Male-focused policies are necessary to achieve any further step towards gender equality. Without the men's participation, there is no way to implement effective means. Thus, active partnerships have to be built. Also important are public awareness campaigns which promote the fathers' view on themselves as their daughters' protectors. Furthermore, programs should be initiated that show women as active participants of the labour force and that promote diversity in the workplace.
For Binkley, these recommendations could be best taken into action with "the establishment of a national child marriage taskforce" (Binkley 2010, p.12)
Summarizing, Beatriz Binkley gives an overview about the topic of child marriage in Yemen in a sociological perspective. Although most of the policy recommendations might currently not become reality in Yemen, they are a good starting point to develop a plan of action.
You can find the literature on the following website. The analysis is worth reading!