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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.