Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Yemen, Activists Push for an End to the Marriage of Girl Children

In Yemen, Civil Society Challenges the Marriage of Underage Girls

Is a ten year old girl too young to marry? Apparently, in some religious circles in Yemen, the answer is "No".

But this week, hundreds of demonstrators converged on the capital of San'a to vigorously voice their support for proposed national legislation that would make the marriage of girl children in Yemen illegal.

In many conservative and agrarian societies, including majority-Muslim cultures, it is not uncommon for girl children to be forced into marriage, usually to adult men. The arrangements are made by families, and clearly, not on the
volition of the girls. These girls live as virtual chattel and sexual slaves to their new "husbands". Typically, they remain poor, uneducated, victimized by domestic violence, and extremely exploited.

It all comes down to the irrefutable truth that a 10 year old human being is not suitable as a wife.

Yet in Yemen, some conservative Muslim scholars are challenging the proposed ban on child marriages, claiming that those who would reject the "right" of 10 year old girls to marry are apostates-that is, people who deviate from Islam and the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, the label of apostasy can result, in some cultures, in the imposition of the death penalty on those who are found guilty of it.

It is certainly true that child marriage, like slavery, was an element in the culture of the early evolution of Islam. Girls would typically be given in marriage in their early teenage years, or even much younger. These actions are underpinned by centuries of gender inequality, the denial of the fundamental human rights of both females and children, and the notion that females were created by God to serve the interests and cater to the appetites of men.

But no more. We now live in the 21st century ( not the 7th), and females are rapidly reaching social parity with men. Children are recognized as human beings who have inalienable human rights. One of those rights is the right of a female child to not be subjected to forced marriage, or any form of sexual exploitation.

As Muslims, we should also recognize, as most of the world certainly does, that the social, economic, cultural, and yes-spiritual-health of a nation is inextricably connected to the health and equality of its girls and women. Girls must be educated, nurtured, protected, and loved. They are not ready to become wives at the age of ten.

The beauty of Islam is evident in the values of justice, piety, the seeking of intellectual enlightenment, and the moral development of human beings for the sake of our relationship with Almighty God, and the overall betterment of human society. Freeing young girls from the subservience and degradation of forces marriage is definitely a step that Yemen, and all Muslims, should both legislate and vigorously enforce. This is a law that would not only be good for the children of Yemen, but for the global Muslim Ummah as well.

Ibrahim Ramey

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