Rights Organizations in Yemen represented by Seyaj, the country’s most prominent child rights organization urged the government to speed up the approval of the draft law, stressing that such piece of legislation will ensure that children are duly protected under the law. The rights groups also suggested that, in order to reflect ground realities and circumstances, the minimum age could be exceptionally reduced to 16 at the full discretion of the authorities.
Yemen is set this Sunday to discuss Legal Affairs Minister Mohammad Makhlafi pass law on marriage which would include setting up 18, as the minimum age for marriage. The draft law referred to as Child Rights Law will have first to be approved by Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa before it can reach Parliament.
While rights activists both within and without Yemen have campaigned for the change ever since the 2012 when the coalition government was first sworn in, determined to capitalize on Yemen’s democratic aspirations and desire for institutional change. If politicians have in the past shun away from the issue of child marriage, only too aware of the religious and tribal backlash such a law would generate, Human Rights Minister Hooriah Mashour made clear she wanted to see an amendment to the current law by setting an age limitation to marriage.
Should indeed such law be approved, Yemen would quite dramatically break with tradition. According to Human Rights Watch survey about 52% of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18.
“The draft minimum age law is a real beacon of hope for the thousands of Yemeni girls vulnerable to being married off while still children,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
He added, “The government should act quickly on this measure and develop enforcement mechanisms to prevent even more girls from becoming victims of early and forced marriage.”
But the new draft law goes beyond setting an age limitation to marriage. Under the new terms any official in charge of registering a marital union would have the strict obligation to verify the “age of both the man and the woman “– article 46©
Article 242(a) provides criminal penalties of between two months and one year in prison and a fine of up to YER 400,000 (US$1,860) for any authorized person who draws up a marriage contract knowing that at least one party is under 18. And, any witnesses or signatories to the marriage contract, including the parents or other guardians, who know that at least one party is under 18 face a prison sentence of between one and three months and a fine of between YER 100,000 (US$460) and 250,000 (US$1,160).
Moreover, other issues relating to female genital mutilation are also covered in the draft law. . Articles 13(b) and 242(b) prohibit the practice of female genital mutilation, providing criminal penalties of between one and three years in prison and a fine of up to YER 1,000,000 (US$4,644) to those who carry out the cutting. Articles 162 and 250(b) prohibit the use or recruitment of child soldiers, providing a fine of up to300, 000 (US$1,393). Articles 150 to 157 and 247 prohibit child labour in line with international legal standards, providing fines for violators of up to YER 200,000 (US$930).
Calling on Yemen politicians and state officials to ensure that the draft law be approved Houry stressed, “The prime minister should provide strong leadership to get the minimum age for marriage and the child rights law on the books … There’s no excuse for further delays in passing this desperately needed legislation.”
Seyaj, Yemen most prominent child rights organization also urged the government to speed up the approval of the draft law, stressing that such piece of legislation will ensure that children are duly protected under the law. The rights groups also suggested that, in order to reflect ground realities and circumstances, the minimum age could be exceptionally reduced to 16 at the full discretion of the authorities.
Seyaj also noted that beyond the issuing of a new law, the authorities should not only concentrate on addressing the factors which contributed in the first place to the practice of child marriage but aim to promote education for girls.
But even though Abdulwahab al-Ansi, the secretary general of Islah, Yemen’s Sunni Islamic faction did say that he would support a law prescribing a minimum age for marriage, it remains unclear whether or not such drastic change will be tolerated by Yemen’s powerful religious class.
The majority of clerics feel that such a draft law would directly come in opposition of the Quran and thus should not be tolerated under the Constitution. Although Yemen has a republican system its Constitution is based on Sharia (Islamic law) and therefore no laws can ever come in opposition with the Scriptures.
While Yemen’s religious have always supported the protection of children, it is the idea that the state could legislate in contradiction with the Scriptures which they have said they could not tolerate.
That being said, other countries in the Islamic world, which too have used Sharia as their legal matrix, have nevertheless managed to reconcile the religious and internal law by agreeing to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18; it could be that Yemen is about to follow suit.