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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid