Forced Marriage Overseas: Yemen
Individuals from the United States may face serious hurdles and substantial risks trying to avoid and/or escape marriage 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, domestic abuse, and honor killings. Forced and child marriage continues to be widespread, with few resources or options available to victims.
The current state of crisis in Yemen and of the Yemeni government, including present laws or the enforcement of such laws, is unknown and in flux. This Overseas Country Map addresses the Yemeni legal system and laws surrounding forced marriage prior to the ouster of President Hadi and his government leaders. However, it is unclear what government will remain in power as the crisis in Yemen continues. In addition, it is unclear how laws will change following any resolution to the current situation.
Ongoing civil unrest and terrorist activity will affect everyone’s ability to leave the country. All routes out of the country are considered dangerous and subject to significant safety risks.
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 or attempting to leave a marriage. Yemen’s Law of Personal Status, based on Shari’ah law, provides no minimum age for marriage. In 1999, the government repealed a law setting age 15 as the minimum legal age for marriage.1 Recent legislative efforts to set a new minimum age have been rejected.2 A woman or girl must have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 marry3 but the bride need not be present 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 married women cannot leave home or travel abroad without their husband’s consent.5
In addition, women do not have equal rights or access to divorce, inheritance, or child custody.
Child marriages remain widespread. Doctors and the media have reported the deaths of child brides as young as age 8 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, however, 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 can easily access protection. Child marriage is a traditional practice and one that is not generally viewed as violent or harmful.9 According to the United Nations, incidences of violence against women, including forced marriage, are rarely if ever reported to local authorities.10 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 of abuse to a male relative rather than to authorities.13
Honor violence is also common. 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.14
The government has established some shelters for women and children who are victims of violence, however, these are located only in the capitol of Sana’a. NGOs are working to prevent gender-based violence in Yemen, but again, these are mainly located in the capitol and given the current conflict, victims have been prevented from accessing these resources and it is highly unlikely that any such resources are currently available.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Individuals from the U.S. that are fleeing forced marriage in Yemen may face significant challenges leaving the country. Female U.S. citizens that are married to Yemeni men, or to Yemeni-American men, are obliged by law to obey their husband, and cannot leave home or travel abroad without his consent.15 All women must receive permission from their guardian (husband or father depending on marriage status) to obtain an exit visa.
Additionally, U.S. divorce decrees may not be recognized in Yemen, especially if the marriage took place in Yemen and there are reports of U.S. citizen women who have married in Yemen and divorced in the United States being prevented from departing Yemen by their ex-husbands.16
For women attempting to leave with children, even if the woman has legal custody, she will likely be required to receive permission from her husband prior to obtaining an exit visa. Only then can she leave Yemen with her children. This is true for both Yemeni women and women with U.S. citizenship status. It is unlikely that U.S. custody orders will be enforced in Yemen.17
At present, once an American woman arrives in Yemen, it may be extremely difficult to leave. There are no current U.S. Embassy staff or services available in the country. As a result, the U.S. government cannot assist any visitors to Yemen, even in emergency situations.
Please check the entry and exit requirements for Yemen for the most up-to-date travel information.
Assistance for Individuals from the United States
- 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
All U.S. Embassy operations in Yemen ceased on February 11, 2015. Al-Qaida affiliates and other terrorist organizations are active throughout the country. The United States remains extremely concerned about possible attacks on U.S. citizens, including visitors to the country and residents of Yemen.18
- U.S.Embassy Sana’a
All U.S. Embassy operations in Yemen ceased on February 11, 2015.
1 Christine Hauser, Yemen Takes a Step Toward Law Ending Child Marriage, The New York Times, (January 23, 2014) 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 http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/yemen-end-child-marriage (Sept. 11, 2013) [hereinafter 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 Laila Al-Zwaini, The Rule of Law in Yemen: Prospects and Challenges, (Sept. 2012) HiiL’s Rule of Law Quick Scan Series [hereinafter Quick Scan], at 15.
4 Id. at 43.
5 Id. at 43 (citing art. 40).
6 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 15-16, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf
7 Matt Blake, Yemeni child bride, eight, dies of internal injuries on first night of forced marriage to groom five times her age, Daily Mail Online, (Sept. 9, 2013) available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415871/Yemeni-child-bride-8-dies-internal-injuries-night-forced-marriage-groom-40.html
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.
9 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
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
13 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011: Yemen [hereinafter Country Report for 2011], available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2011humanrightsreport/index.htm?dynamic_load_id=186455#wrapper
14 Human Rights Watch, How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?: Child Marriage in Yemen (2011), at 12,26, available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/yemen1211ForUpload_0.pdf
15 Laila Al-Zwaini, The Rule of Law in Yemen: Prospects and Challenges, (Sept. 2012) HiiL’s Rule of Law Quick Scan Series
16 U.S. Department of State, U.S. Passports & International Travel: Yemen, Local Laws & Special Circumstances, available at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/yemen.html
17 U.S. State Department – Yemen Crisis, available at: http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/YemenCrisis.html
18Yemen Travel Warning, U.S. Passports and International Travel, available at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/yemen-travel-warning.html