SAN'A: A 12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, has died during a difficult delivery in which her baby also died, a children's rights organisation said yesterday, demanding action to stop Yemeni men taking child brides.
Fawziya Abdullah Youssef died of severe bleeding while giving birth to a stillborn in the Al Zahra district hospital of Hodeida province, 223km west of the capital San'a.
Youssef was only 11 when her father married her to a 24-year-old man who works as a farmer in Saudi Arabia, said Ahmed Al Quraishi, chairman of Siyaj human rights organization, which promotes the rights of children in Yemen.
Raised in an impoverished family with a father suffering from kidney failure, she was forced to drop out of school and fell pregnant a year later.
The Yemeni Organisation for Childhood Protection (Seyaj) said its volunteers had confirmed that doctors had been unable to save Fawziya's life after she suffered complications from the delivery.
"The lack of a statutory minimum age for marriage makes it impossible for local officials to ban child marriages, especially among girls, or to punish their parents or spouses for the disastrous consequences of such marriages," Seyaj said, adding that such marriages are widespread on Yemen's Red Sea coast.
"The case of Fawziya illustrates the tragedy of those whom we call 'the brides of death', who are little girls, less than 15 years old, forced into marriage, mostly due to financial reasons," Seyaj director Ahmed Al Qorashi said.
"The proportion of little girls and teenage females married before 15 is nearly 50 percent" in rural parts of Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
"These marriages are the result of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy, and lead to the destruction of the lives of these young girls, whose opinion is not taken in consideration," Qorashi added.
Last year, a Yemeni court granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage with a man 20 years her senior, saying he feared she might otherwise be kidnapped by the would-be spouse.
The case of Nojud Mohammed Ali shed light on the suffering of the many adolescent girls forced into marriage.
"This is a real tragedy in which the government is the top responsible party, because the president (Ali Abdullah Saleh) has until now not promulgated the law (on a minium age for marriage) adopted by parliament in February," said the lawyer who obtained Nojud's divorce, Shaza Nasser.
She said the government "should launch awareness campaigns in rural areas and prevent clerics from concluding marriage contracts" for girls under the age of 17.
She said authorities also had the duty to make sure girls received schooling in a country where illiteracy rates are estimated at 33.4 per cent among men and reach 76 pc among women.
Since she won Nojoud's case, Nasser has been contacted by many girls in similar situations who were encouraged to speak out by her success in the courts.
She has already helped a 10-year-old girl, Arwa, to get a divorce.
She said she was currently working on the case of a teenager who had been married off by her father at the age of two because he needed the money.
The marriage contract allowed her to remain with her parents until the age of 13 when she was expected to consummate the union.