Yemen child brides the victims of poverty, tradition

Yemen child brides the victims of poverty, tradition

SANAA - Forced into marriage when she was only 13, Saadah is now back in her impoverished Yemeni family's cramped home with two children, little money and dreams of returning to school.

"I don't want a husband ever again. All I want is to get a divorce and study," Saadah says as she sits in the small room she shares with her two boys, dark circles shading her weary eyes.

"Child brides," or "death brides" as they are sometimes called, are quite common in poor, tribal Yemen, where barely pubescent girls are forced into marriage, often to much older men.

Saadah's ill father, no longer able to sustain his family, married her off five years ago in an attempt to spare her from her family's poverty.

But her husband soon began forcing her to beg on the capital's streets with her boys until she fled back to her parents' home.

"He would beat and verbally abuse me and my family," says Saadah, now 18, whose name means happiness in Arabic.

She is dressed in black from head to toe, but there are still traces of fading orange henna on the fingernails of her fidgety hands. Her two boys, aged three and four, look on as she recounts the nightmare of her marriage.

"My life is difficult with my parents, as we rely on small amounts of aid from our neighbours to survive. But this is still better than living with my husband," Saadah says.

Her 16-year-old sister Amnah was also forced to marry, and wed a man who agreed to pay her father's 20,000 riyals (S$116) worth of debt three years ago.

"I am a victim of early marriage," says Amnah, who was also abused by her husband before she escaped after just five months with him.

"He once put a dagger to my stomach and dragged me out of my parents' house. He then beat me on the street in front of everyone before taking me back to his house," she recalls shyly.

She finally went back to school this year.

Activists have been pushing for a draft law that sets a minimum age for marriage.

Human Rights Minister Huriya Mashhoor told AFP last month she wanted to revive a 2009 bill - which would have set the minimum age for marriage at 17 - and amend it to raise the age to 18.

Activists say the bill was shelved when ultraconservative lawmakers from the Islamist Al-Islah party blocked it.

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