News / Middle East

Yemen Marriage Laws Under Scrutiny

Sally al-Sahabi, 12, and her father enter the police station, hoping that having her husband arrested will pressure him into granting her a divorce
Sally al-Sahabi, 12, and her father enter the police station, hoping that having her husband arrested will pressure him into granting her a divorce
Heather Murdock

In Yemen, two men are in jail after a 12-year-old girl marched into a police station, and demanded the arrest of her father and her 26-year-old husband. Sally al-Sahabi says she was beaten and raped by her husband, but still needs his consent to get a divorce. After two years of struggle, she hopes the arrests will pressure her husband into relenting.

Mubkhoot Ahmed looked delighted as a Yemeni police officer led him and his 26-year-old son-in-law into a concrete jail cell. He continued chatting loudly after the door was chained shut and padlocked.

His daughter, 12-year-old Sally al-Sahabi, was not as confident. She wants a divorce from her 26-year-old husband, Nabil al-Mushahi, but worries that her lawyer's plan, which is to pressure al-Mushahi into granting her a divorce, puts her father in danger.

About an hour before the arrest, al-Mushahi, tried to leave the family home, in Sana'a's medieval Old City, but Sally's father shoved him back into the courtyard.

"You are not leaving this house until you divorce my daughter, or we both go to jail," he shouts.

A few minutes later, Sally left the family home with a letter from a prosecutor. Fully veiled in the bright sun, she marched through the crowded marketplace to the police station, less than a mile away. More than half of the girls in Yemen are married before they are 18. In many parts of the country, it is customary to marry girls as young as 10 years old. And in this ultra-conservative society, it is unusual to see a girl fighting back.

At the police station, one officer read the crumpled, handwritten letter while another took her statement. Her father and her husband lied on her marriage certificate, she said. They claimed she was 15 years old, but she was really only ten. Falsifying official documents is a criminal offense. About 30 minutes later, several policemen escorted Sally back to her house, and calmly arrested the two men.

Ahmed says he was wrong to marry off his daughter at 10 years old, wrong to force her to live with her husband in a far away province, and wrong to have beaten her for refusing to have sex with her husband. Now, he says, he will do anything to free her from the marriage.

But for women in Yemen, divorce is not easy. Shadda Nasser, a lawyer representing Sally, says divorce in Yemen is a simple legal process, for men. But for girls like Sally, it is nearly impossible without the husband's consent.

"Here in Yemen, if the woman she wants to ask about the divorce, she has to take a very long process," said Nasser. "But the man, when he asks about the divorce, he can go directly to the court and pay for this paper, and go to his wife and say now I am not your husband."

With both men in jail, Nasser is hoping that the husband will relent. But al-Mushahi looked defiant as he entered the police station with the arresting officers. He told reporters his sister was married when she was about 7 years old, and he does not know why it is now suddenly a problem.

And Yemeni law does not recognize Sally's major complaint: that her husband forced her to have sex, as legitimate. Marital rape is not a crime in Yemen, and currently there is no law that says a 10-year-old cannot be a wife.

But in the coming weeks, the Yemeni parliament is set to vote on a new law that could set a minimum age for marriage at 17 years old. This law has been floating around the legislature for over a year now, and won a majority of votes in an earlier vote, but was later blocked by influential conservative sheiks.

Sheik Mohammad al-Hamzi, a parliament member, says the measure is un-Islamic because it encourages pre-marital sex and reflects Western values, not Yemeni values.

But Sally and her father say the law would help educate poor families, who often marry their daughters young to collect a dowry, or just to have one less mouth to feed.

Sally says she wanted to get married because brides get new clothes and jewels. But she did not know about sex, or that she would be taken far away from her family. And her father, who is illiterate, says child-brides are common in Yemen, and many parents just don't know the dangers.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs