* Â The norm sets the limit at the age of 17, but according to Islamic figures, this goes against Sharia, and therefore Parliament cannot legislate on the matter. Meanwhile, lawmakers have decided to delay by two years the political elections scheduled for April.
Young Yemeni girls preparing for marriage to wealthy Arabs. Under the new amendments, children younger than 17 iares not allowed to marry unless it is deemed by a judge to be in their best interests
Sana’a (AsiaNews) – Some Yemeni religious figures have launched a “fatwa” against the law recently approved by Parliament that sets the minimum age for marriage at 17. The statement, signed by the rector of Al-Eman University, Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, and by representatives of the party Islamic Islah, is aimed at eliminating the minimum age limit.
The question of the minimum age for marriage in Yemen was brought to the attention of world public opinion last April, following the case of Nojud Mohammed Ali, an 8-year-old girl who requested and obtained a divorce after being forced to marry a 30-year-old man.
News YemenÂ reports that the 17 signers of the “fatwa” claim that the law has no Islamic foundation and violates Sharia, the Islamic law, which the Constitution of the country affirms as the basis of all of its laws. “The marriage age,” says the assistant secretary general of the Islah party, Mohammad Assadi, “is an Islamic rule, and political parties cannot intervene in such affairs.”
But there are also some who are asking that the minimum age be raised to 18. One researcher on Islamic questions, AbdulAziz alAsali, also a member of Islah, maintains that girls need to be given time to complete high school, and that “at 18 years they are mentally and physically ready for marriage.”
For its part, the National Women’s Committee has asked Parliament not to respond to the lawmakers who are asking for the marriage age limit to be lowered to 12.
In any case, it is unlikely that the issue will be examined immediately. Yesterday, the Yemeni Parliament decided in practice to delay by two years the political elections scheduled for next April. Members of Parliament, in fact, approved a document initiating the procedures necessary to modify the articles of the Constitution establishing the duration of the parliamentary mandate. The decision was made to allow the introduction of the amendments necessary “for political and electoral development,” including the proportional system.
The decision was made following threats by the opposition to boycott the vote if the electoral law were not modified.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Although Yemen’s parliament has agreed to set the minimum age for marriage at 17, there are concerns the decision may be rescinded as some members of parliament (MPs) say the amendments violate Sharia (Islamic) law.Â Â
On 11 February, most MPs agreed on amending some articles in the law regarding women and child rights.
However, Horiah Mashour, deputy head of the National Women’s Committee (NWC), a government body, said there was still some resistance to the amendments by a minority of extremist MPs.
“They want to bring the amendments into discussion again. They say there is no marriage age set by Sharia,” she told IRIN.
One MP, Abdulbari Dughaish, told IRIN that some MPs sought to re-open discussions on the new amendments.
“Withdrawing the agreed decision on setting the marriage age at 17 is possible. The MPs who agreed on it might change their minds,” he said.
The new amendments were meant to elevate the status of children and the family. Early marriage deprives a child from enjoying life, entertainment and education, he said.
He said Yemen and Saudi Arabia were the only Arab countries that had not legally set the marriage age.
Under the new amendments, children younger than 17 are not allowed to marry unless it is deemed by a judge to be in their best interests.
The new amendments stipulate that the husband or the girl’s guardian have to document the marriage contract, listing their ages, to the authorities within a month of marriage. Failure to do so would result in the husband and the girl’s guardian being financially penalised.
Horiah said that before the reunification of Yemen in 1994, the law set the marriage age at 15 in southern and northern parts of the country. But five years later the law was amended and a girl’s custodian had the authority to decide if a girl should marry.
She said people, especially in rural areas, might outwit the new legislation by not revealing the true age of child brides.
“Although a birth registration certificate is issued [by the government] for free, there are still people who won’t get it at all. In this case, they can decide any age for the girl.”
Horiah pointed out that awareness campaigns were necessary to help spread news of the amendments, adding that “local radio can play a big role in educating people”.
In a recent study by the NWC and Sanaa University’s Gender Development Research and Study Centre on early marriage in the governorates of Hadramaout and al-Hudeidah, 52 percent of 6,000 female respondents were married underage.
A 2007 report by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) ranked Yemen 13 out of 20 worst countries in terms of the prevalence of child marriage. The report said 48.4 percent of women were married before 18.Disclaimer:This material comes to you viaÂ IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.