Top Yemeni religious leaders oppose ban on child marriages
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Mar 22, 2010 23:46 Updated: Mar 23, 2010 06:18
SANAA: Some of Yemen's most influential Islamic leaders, including one the US
says mentored Osama Bin Laden, have declared supporters of a ban on child
brides to be apostates. The religious decree, issued Sunday, deeply imperils
efforts to salvage legislation that would make it illegal for those under the
age of 17 to marry.
The religious decree, issued Sunday, deeply imperils efforts to salvage
legislation that would make it illegal for those under the age of 17 to marry.
The practice is widespread in Yemen and has been particularly hard to
discourage in part because of the country's gripping poverty - bride-prices in
the hundreds of dollars are especially difficult for poor families to pass up.
More than a quarter of Yemen's women marry before age 15, according to a report
last year by the Social Affairs Ministry. Tribal custom also plays a role,
including the belief that a young bride can be shaped into an obedient wife,
bear more children and be kept away from temptation.
A February 2009 law set the minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed
and sent back to parliament's constitutional committee for review after some
lawmakers called it un-Islamic. The committee is expected to make a final
decision on the legislation next month.
Some of the clerics who signed Sunday's decree sit on the committee.
The group behind the declaration also includes Yemen's most influential cleric,
Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani, whom the United States has branded a spiritual
mentor of Bin Laden. Al-Zindani denies being a member of Al-Qaeda.
The religious leaders organized a protest against the legislation on Sunday by
a group of women. The women carried signs that read "Yes to the Islamic rights
"I was married at 15 and have many children now," said one of the women, Umm
Abdul-Rahman. "And I will marry my daughter at the same age if I decide she is
ready for it."
The issue of Yemen's child brides vaulted into the headlines three years ago
when an 8-year-old girl boldly went by herself to a courtroom and demanded a
judge dissolve her marriage to a man in his 30s. She eventually won a divorce,
and legislators began looking at ways to curb the practice.
In September, a 12-year-old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three
days in labor to give birth, a local human rights organization said.
A rights group pushing for a ban planned a protest for Tuesday.
"The government has two options: To give girls in Yemen a chance at life or to
condemn them to a death sentence," said Amal Basha, chairwoman of the group,
Sisters Arab Forum in Yemen.
Yemen once set 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but parliament annulled that
law in the 1990s, saying parents should decide when a daughter marries.
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