Human Rights Watch [official website] called Thursday for the government of Yemen [JURIST news archive] to increase the minimum age [press release] for girls to enter into marriage. In a 54-page report [text, PDF] titled "How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?" HRW claims that the current laws effectively make Yemeni girls and women second class citizens, often forcing them into pre-arranged child marriages where they will have no control over decisions such as when to bear children. More than half of Yemeni women report having entered into marriage before 18 years of age. The report claims that raising the marital age to 18 will increase girls' educational opportunities and protect their human rights [AP report]. HRW made several recommendations to the Yemeni government:
To the Government of Yemen:A majority of Yemenis, including 83.4 percent of Yemeni women, would reportedly support fixing the marital age at 18 years old [Yemen Polling Center]. Despite denying a 2009 bill that proposed fixing the minimum marital age at 17 [Equality Now report], Yemen ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2008.
- Set the minimum age for marriage at 18 in accordance with the definition of a child in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Raise awareness with religious leaders about the harmful health consequences of child marriage on the lives of girls and women.
- Increase and improve access to reproductive health services and information for all girls and women, including access to emergency obstetric care and family planning.
- Develop retention strategies to ensure that girls who enroll in school are able to remain in school, such as financial incentives for families to keep girls in school and to subsidize the costs of uniforms and textbooks.
- Raise awareness about the obligation to register births and marriages through the media.
Yemen has been repeatedly criticized for various human rights abuses in the past. In September, a delegation from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] released a report [text, PDF] announcing a humanitarian crisis [JURIST report] in Yemen that requires immediate intervention. The OHCHR verified that the Yemeni government was firing on peaceful protesters as well as warring against armed rebels, and that as a tactic of war, both sides were withholding water, fuel and electricity from civilians. The report also listed a number of human rights atrocities, including the government shooting at ambulances and preventing activists from receiving medical treatment, utilizing child soldiers, and illegally detaining, torturing and killing an inestimable number of adults and children. The report ended with a plea to both the armed rebels and the government of Yemen to end the violence and called on the international community to condemn Yemen's action and provide humanitarian and financial relief to the nation. Yemen has also been criticized [AI report] for its handling of pro-democracy protests that have persisted since February.