SANAA - As the story of the Yemeni child who has reportedly died on her wedding night continues to cast shadows on the Yemeni government, a prominent Yemeni official has called to activate the legal age for marriage bill and raise it to 18 years.
We are asking to fix the legal age for marriage at 18, as Yemen is a signatory to the international conventions on children's rights, Yemen's Human Rights Minister Huriya Mashhoor, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Saturday, September 14.
The minister noted that she aims to activate legal age for marriage bill which was issued in 2009 and subsequently froze by Al-Islah party.
I wrote to the president of the chamber of deputies to re-file on the parliamentary agenda the bill limiting the age of marriage, Mashhoor said.
Moreover, she urged to amend the minimum age for marriage to be 18 years, instead of 17.
Mashhoor's proposal followed last week reports about the death of an eight-year-old girl in Yemen of internal injuries on the first night of her marriage to a man in his 40s.
The story of Rawan's death, denied by local officials, has sparked anger over the old Yemeni practice.
Child marriages are widespread in Yemen.
Estimates show that 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married off before the age of 18 and 14 percent before the age of 15.
There are some cases in which young girls as little as 8 were being allowed to enter a marital union.
Islam highly appreciates marriage and gives it due care stating detailed rules and ruling in every single and small matter.
Islam doesn't impose a specific age for eligibility for marriage and leaves it for the legal authorities to decide the proper age for marriage in order to maintain interests of both husbands and wives.
This, of course, changes from one country or community to anther depending on many considerable factors.
In Islam also it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry.
Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.
The minister's proposed bill followed Yemeni officials' denial of the incident, confirming that Rawan is still alive.
The young girl Rawan Abdo Hattan is still alive and normally lives with her family who, in turn, deny the whole thing, Ali al-Qaissi, the governor of Hajja province, told Yemeni official news agency SABA on Saturday.
The young girl is currently in a social protection centre after undergoing physical and psychological tests in a public hospital in the area.
Prior to Al-Qaissi's statement, the Human Rights Minister said that they still lack 'evidence' to the girl's death, raising concern about the attempts to 'silence' the case.
We do not have enough evidence at the moment about the incident, Mashhoor said.
But I am worried that there could be an attempt to silence the matter, especially as it took place in an isolated rural area in Hajja province where there have been similar cases before.
If the case was confirmed and covered up, then the crime would be more serious, she added.
Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch warned that 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent before 18, citing Yemeni and 2006 data from the United Nations.
In certain rural areas, girls as young as eight are sometimes given in marriage to men much older than they.
Earlier in 2012, a HRW report said the repercussions of child marriages reverberate throughout Yemeni society as it prevents women from completing their education, keeping Yemen in a state of prolonged ignorance.
The problem of Yemeni child marriage caused worldwide outrage in 2010, with the case of Nujod Mohamed Ali who had been married at the age of 10 to a man 20 years her senior in 2008.
Granted a divorce after he sexually abused and beat her, Ali became involved in campaigns against forced underage marriages, leading to calls to ban women from marrying before the age of 18.
Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the highest religious body in the Sunni Muslim world, has recently issued a manual on the rights of Muslim children.
Marriage in Islam is regulated by certain rules, namely, children must reach puberty and maturity so that they can get married, the manual said.