How can I marry a Saudi girl

Girl in Yemen, forcibly married

Hind has her life back. The twelve-year-old girl greets her visitor with a triumphant smile. Some time ago, her mother managed to get a court ruling in her daughter's favor. The court overturned a prenuptial agreement that her father had signed for her. He has been in prison for nine years and had promised his daughter to a fellow inmate who was sentenced to death.

The circumstances of Hind's story are unusual - and at least it ended happily. But it is not an isolated case: in Yemen, many girls are forced to marry, even though they are not yet of an age at which they can live a self-determined sexuality and have a marriage. When young women are considered old enough for this is still not clearly regulated in Yemen. And so underage girls continue to be forced into marriage - a practice that has intensified again in the war that has been going on for years. This was determined in April by a working group of the UN Security Council, which also denounced numerous other serious violations of children's rights, such as murders, kidnappings and recruitment as child soldiers.

Escape from forced marriage: Hind in front of her family's house

Hind, who is currently in sixth grade, has a biological sister and four half-sisters. Her father brought them into the family. Now Hind's mother is raising her. The family lives in a modest two-room apartment on the southwestern edge of the capital Sanaa.

Married to a man in jail

Hind's story of suffering began a few months ago. Then she visited her father in prison and he told her that she should prepare for her wedding. She will soon be married to a man who is also in prison, her mother told DW. The 30-year-old groom chosen by the father was sentenced to death for drug smuggling and possession. Hind was supposed to marry him anyway. In Yemen, prisoners have the right to meet their wives in prison once a week.

Document of Liberty: The verdict that invalidates Hind's marriage contract

The girl is not the only one in her family who was married against his will. His mother reports that the family is still a long way from overcoming the fate of two Hinds sisters. One, Sabrin, was also married to a fellow prisoner by her father. After the marriage, she fell ill - and pregnant. The other sister, Wadad, was also forced into marriage. The minor already has two children.

All of this prompted Hind's mother to go to court to have Hind's marriage contract voided. In the end, she won the case, but there was no calm. Hind's rejected groom threatened the mother via text message that he would fetch the daughter "by force" if she did not come to him in the detention center soon. The case attracted public attention in Yemen.

Poverty encourages child marriages

For most girls, it is extremely difficult to avoid an enforced marriage. Manal, now 17, was 13 when her family forced her to marry a man 20 years her senior. This marriage also ended in divorce. But Manal has bitter memories. After the marriage, she suffered more and more from day to day, she told DW. She could no longer bear life as a wife. "The older I get, the more I feel how cruel this experience was. It was a lost time."

The marriage of minors is often justified with alleged traditions or is supposedly religiously justified. This has been discussed in Yemen as well as in other Arab countries for decades - even if the extent and the background of this practice differ significantly from region to region. For example, a number of countries have legally stipulated a minimum age of 18 for the bride - which does not mean that this is always observed.

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    Author: Peter Hille

There are many reasons for the numerous child marriages in Yemen: In addition to social tradition, there is chronic poverty, which the war made even worse: Around 24 million Yemenis are dependent on humanitarian aid. Education programs aimed at preventing child marriages have been cut or dropped entirely. According to a UN report, the number of marriages among girls under the age of 18 increased nearly three-fold between 2017 and 2018 alone.

Nobody protects the victims

There are no exact statistics. Ahmed Al-Qurashi, president of the child protection organization Siyaj, also emphasized in a DW interview that the number of marriages of young women had increased unprecedentedly since 2014 - the beginning of the war.

The reasons are varied, said Al-Qurashi. For example, there is no authority to enforce children's rights. In most regions of the country, courts, prosecutors and police no longer performed their duties. This applies in particular to rural areas, where child marriages are more common. High rates of poverty and unemployment, failing salaries, the withdrawal of numerous companies and institutions and a high level of corruption in the humanitarian aid environment all contribute to the fact that girls are married off at an early age. "We observe violations and practices that violate children's rights with great concern. Since there is no protection for victims, this is increasing sharply."

Committed to children's rights: psychologist Balqees Abu Lahum

Births are life-threatening

Poverty is the main reason for child marriages, believes the Yemeni psychologist Balqees Abu Lahum. "Many parents have practically no income, while at the same time they have many children. So they are forced to marry their daughters to a man who does not care about the girl's age."

Such a marriage has catastrophic consequences for the girls, emphasizes Abu Lahum. If they gave birth to children, many young mothers would not survive the birth. Others, however, subsequently suffered from mental health problems, which in turn were carried over to their children. Abu Lahum emphasizes the importance of girls having access to education. More must also be done to raise awareness in society.

Above all, it is crucial to set a statutory lower limit for the age of marriage. For many years, however, Yemen has not even had a functioning government that could make and implement such a decision for the whole country.