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YEMEN: Outrage over death of 12-year-old child bride aimed at government [Updated]

September 16, 2009 |  6:51 am

Yemen-girl

Mounting outrage following the death of 12-year-old Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, who died giving birth to her stillborn child, is renewing pressure on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to ratify a law passed in parliament that would make 17 the minimum marriage age.

Youssef died on arrival at a rural hospital in Yemen's Al Hodeida province after several days of difficult labor, according to the Yemeni child rights association Seyaj.

Youssef, the oldest of four children, was just 11 when her ailing father pulled her out of school and married her to a man twice her age, 25-year-old Youssef Ghrad, Seyaj director Ahmed Qorashi told The Times.

Qorashi said early marriages are not uncommon in poor families such as the Youssefs, who probably did not think they were doing anything wrong. The family's poverty may also explain why the girl was not taken sooner to the hospital, which was 10 miles from where she lived.

[Updated, 12:30 p.m., The Yemeni embassy in Washington sent an email lamenting Fawiziya's death.

"We were profoundly saddened to hear the news of the death of the young Yemeni girl, Fawziya Abdullah Yousef (age 12)," said the email by Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Embassy. 

He said President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to amend the marriage law to raise the minimum age to 17 but was thwarted by conservative lawmakers.  But he vowed that the government would soon pass legislation to raise the marriage age. 

"It is deemed an important priority of the government," he wrote.] 

The issue of child brides became a national debate last year when then-10-year-old Nujood Ali defied convention by demanding a divorce from her husband, who was in his 30s. As a result, legislation was introduced to set a minimum age for marriage, but the president has yet to ratify it.

"This is a real tragedy in which the government is the top responsible party," Shadha Nasser, the lawyer represented Nujood during her divorce, told the AFP news agency after Youssef's death.

Qorashi said the president is being pressured by conservative politicians not to ratify the law.

"If it does pass, it will be a huge victory for organizations like ours," he said.

Abdul Rahman Rafaee, the head of the municipal council in Youssef's home district, said in a telephone interview that early marriages are prevalent in his area, where only about a third of girls attend school. 

Rafaee said he and other local authorities have been trying to spread awareness about the dangers faced by young brides, and have succeeded over the last few years in stopping several marriages between girls and men.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Poverty, especially in rural areas, can leave girls vulnerable to early arranged marriages. Credit: Khaled Fazaa / AFP

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