SANAA — Human rights activists are mourning the death of an 8-year-old Yemeni girl who died of internal bleeding on her wedding night.
The girl, identified only as Rawan by the Yemen House of Folklore, was married to a man in his 40s in the town of Meedi in northwestern Yemen in early September.
“On the wedding night and after intercourse, she suffered from bleeding and uterine rupture which caused her death,” Arwa Othman, head of Yemen House of Folklore, told Reuters. “They took her to a clinic but the medics couldn’t save her life.”
No actions have been taken against the girl’s family or the man Yemenis consider her husband.
According to Reuters, two Meedi residents said tribal chiefs tried to cover up the incident and warned a local journalist from reporting the story. In fact, the Huffington Post reports that Yemen officials and journalists deny the incident happened.
In poor Yemen villages, marrying off young girls is a common way for families to earn money from dowries. The younger the girl, the higher the dowry.
In December 2011, the activist group Human Rights Watch urged Yemen’s government to ban marriages of girls younger than 18. According to HRW, about 14 percent of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15 and 52 percent are married before the age of 18.
On its website, HRW posted a video of a man who expressed regret after marrying off his two daughters.
“I’d advise any father, mother or brother not to rush to marry their girls like I did because this is ignorant,” he said. The man, identified as Nadim, admitted to threatening one of his daughters if she didn’t go through with the marriage.
“If you don’t get married, I will kill you,” he told her.
In the interview with HRW, Nadim said he married his daughters off to pay back his debts.
HRW also spoke with Nadim’s daughter and other child brides who said to this day they are against child marriages. One girl said she thought a marriage was just a party. She did not understand the marital duties a wife in Yemen is expected to perform.
Belkis Wille, researcher with Human Rights Watch, said after Yemen’s uprising in 2011, the country has an opportunity to make changes that will protect its young children.
“Right now, during Yemen’s transitional process and the drafting of a new constitution, there is an opportunity to have a provision in the constitution that stipulates a minimum age for marriage,” she said.