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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More