Forced Marriage Overseas: Yemen
Individuals from the United States may face serious hurdles and substantial risks if trying to avoid and/or escape marriages in Yemen. Yemen is in an ongoing state of crisis, making travel in and around the country very challenging. Women and girls in Yemen have little protection from violence, and domestic abuse, honor killings, and forced and child marriage continue to be widespread, with few resources or options available to victims.
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Yemen, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Yemen
Women and girls in Yemen have severely limited rights when entering into or attempting to leave a marriage. Yemen’s Law of Personal Status (based in Shari’ah law) provides no minimum age for marriage. In 1999, the government repealed a law under which 15 was the minimum legal age for marriage.1 Recent legislative efforts to set a new minimum age have been rejected.2 A woman or girl must have the permission and signature of a male guardian or, in his absence, a court judge, to marry,3 and the female’s presence is not required to seal a marriage contract. A woman may include stipulations in the marriage contract, but such practice is strongly discouraged.4 Yemeni law generally requires a wife to obey her husband in all matters, and she cannot leave home or travel abroad without his consent.5 Women also do not have equal rights or access to divorce, inheritance, or child custody.
Child marriages remain widespread, and doctors and the media have reported the deaths of child brides as young as 8 years old following their wedding night or childbirth.6 Although forced and child marriage occurs across class lines, one source notes that “Yemen’s gripping poverty plays a role in hindering efforts to stamp out the practice [of child marriage], as poor families find themselves unable to say no to the ‘bride-prices’ that can be hundreds of dollars for their daughters.”7 Certain cases involving young girls demanding and obtaining divorces or other protections have garnered international attention, but these appear to be very exceptional and rare cases. Lack of registration of birth and marriages, particularly in rural areas, makes it difficult to gather accurate data on child marriage in Yemen.8
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
It is very unlikely that women and girls facing forced marriage in Yemen would be able to easily access protection. Child marriage is a traditional practice in country, and is not generally viewed as violent or harmful.9 According to the United Nations incidences of violence against women, including forced marriages, are rarely if ever reported to local authorities.10
Yemen has no laws related to domestic violence and marital rape is not a criminal offense.11 Married girls often live with their husband’s extended family, where they may be subjected to verbal and physical abuse by their husbands, in-laws, and other family members.12 Abused women are expected to take complaints to a male relative, rather than to authorities.13 In Yemen, many view women who complain about male family members, including husbands, as “disgraceful,” and a stigma may be attached to women who report abuse.14
Honor violence is also common, and the penal code allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an honor crime, or for violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. Murders of women by family members are often not officially reported or are recorded as a natural death. Additionally, death certificates citing the cause of death are not always necessary for burial in rural areas.15
The government has established some shelters for women and children who are victims of violence, but these are only located in the capitol of Sana’a. There are a number of NGO’s working to prevent gender-based violence in Yemen, again mainly located in the capitol. The current conflict in country may prevent victims from being able to access these resources.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Individuals from the U.S. that are fleeing forced marriage situations in Yemen may face significant challenges in leaving the country. Female U.S. Citizens that are married to Yemeni men, or to Yemeni-American men, must receive permission from their husbands to obtain an exit visa. Women are generally not permitted to leave the country with children unless the fathers’ permission has been obtained.16 Please check the entry and exit requirements for Yemen for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Yemen, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department suspended all routine and emergency consular services on February 11, 2015, due to the deteriorating security situation in Sana’a. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Yemen.
- U.S. Embassy Sana’a
1 Christine Hauser, Yemen Takes a Step Toward Law Ending Child Marriage (January 23, 2014), available at http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/yemen-takes-a-step-toward-law-ending-child-marriage/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0; Human Rights Watch, Yemen: End Child Marriage (2013), available at http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/yemen-end-child-marriage.
2 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 38, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf.
3 HiiL’s Rule of Law Quick Scan Series, at 42 (citing arts. 15-17).
4 Id. at 43.
5 Id. at 43 (citing art. 40).
6 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014: Yemen, available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/yemen?page=2.
7 Yemeni child bride, eight, dies of internal injuries on first night of forced marriage to groom five times her age, Mail Online (Sept. 9, 2013).
8 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 22-23, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf.
11 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 24, 34, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf.
12 Human Rights Watch, Yemen: End Child Marriage (2013), available at http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/yemen-end-child-marriage.
14 UN Country Assessment on Violence Against Women: Yemen (2010), available at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/ianwge/taskforces/vaw/Country_Assessment_on_Violence_against_Women_August_2_2010.pdf (last visited January 26, 2014).
15 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 12, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf.
16 Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Passports and International Travel for Yemen, available at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/yemen.html (last visited January 12, 2014).