A Yemeni child bride died earlier this month from severe internal bleeding just three days after being married to a man at least twice her age. Thirteen-year-old Elham Assi died on April 2nd after allegedly being tied down and raped by her husband, according to the Associated Press.
The husband, Abed al-Hikmi, was arrested and told police he was upset because he was unable to consummate the marriage and felt under pressure to do so. A medical clinic reportedly refused to give the girl tranquilizers so that she would stop resisting his advances. That night, however, al-Hikmi raped Assi and took her back to the clinic the next day because she was unable to walk. Dr. Fathiya Haidar, a doctor at the clinic, told the Associated Press that she had suffered significant injury and “I told him not to go near her for at least ten days.” Assi may have been raped again after this clinic visit, as a post-mortem forensics examination showed much more extensive injury than what was reported by the clinic.
Child marriage is a common practice in Yemen, where an estimated 50 percent of young women are married before age 18. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, and child marriage is often arranged so the bride’s family can receive a dowry payment. An anonymous Yemeni government official told CNN, that the case is “a stark reminder that the practice of underage marriage must come to an end…The government has been working tirelessly to cement the minimum marriage age but conservative parliamentarians have stood against it.”
He continued, “members of the conservative block need to step up to the responsibility of protecting the rights and freedoms of the young. NGOs must continue campaigning to shed the light on this unfortunate practice.” The nation’s parliament passed a law establishing the minimum age for marriage at 17 in 2009, but the law was repealed due to pressure from conservative lawmakers. A final decision regarding the enactment of the law is pending, according to the BBC.
Late last year, 12-year-old Yemeni child bride Fawziya Abdullah Youssef died of internal bleeding after struggling to give birth for three days. Youssef was 11 years old when her father married her to a 24-year-old man. In 2008, 10-year-old Nujood Ali brought attention to the problem of child marriage in Yemen when she took a cab to a courthouse and demanded a divorce from her husband, a man more than three times her age who had raped and beat her. A divorce was ultimately granted.
Child marriage remains a common practice in rural and impoverished areas in many countries, with 100 million girls expected to marry in the next ten years, according to the United Nations Population Fund. In June of 2009 the US House of Representatives passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009, which calls on the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to address child marriage in developing countries. A similar measure introduced in the Senate has not passed.