January 11, 2012

Sudarsan Raghavan’s Jan. 9 front-page artice, “In Yemen, children pay the price of revolt,” exposed how Yemen’s political upheaval and humanitarian crisis are harming children. It points out that rising poverty and displacement may result in more families marrying off young girls to ease financial pressures. More than half of girls in Yemen marry before age 18, and about 14 percent before age 15. In some rural areas, families marry off girls as young as 8.

Last month Human Rights Watch published a report about child marriage based on interviews I conducted in Yemen. Many girls and women told me that their families forced them to marry, and almost all of them had dropped out of school. They had little control over whether and when to bear children, and some suffered health problems from early pregnancies. Many said their husbands beat and sometimes raped them.

Yemen’s new government, and its international donors, should urgently address the humanitarian crisis. But not just with food and water handouts. Yemen should enact a law setting 18 as the minimum age of marriage. It should also promote girls’ and women’s access to education, health and domestic violence services. A humanitarian response that ignores these human rights would fail Yemen’s women and girls.

Nadya Khalife, Beirut

The writer is a researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.