April 16, 2010
Yemeni Child Bride Dies After Alleged Marital Rape
A 13-year old Yemeni bride has died after allegedly being forced into sex by her 23 year-old husband. Hopefully the case will bring new attention to pending legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage to 17.
A 13-year-old Yemeni child bride who bled to death shortly after marriage was tied down and forced to have sex by her husband, according to interviews with the child's mother, police and medical reports.
Elham Assi, 13, bled to death hours after she spoke to her mother and just days after she was married to a 23-year-old man. She died on April 2 in the deeply poor Yemeni village of Shueba, some 200 kilometers northwest of the capital. Her husband, Abed al-Hikmi, is in police custody.
The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen where a quarter of all females marry before the age of 15, according to a 2009 report by the country's Ministry of Social Affairs. Traditional families prefer young brides because they are seen as more obedient and are expected to have more children.
Legislation to ban child brides has been stalled by opposition from religious leaders. There has been no government comment over the case.
The girl — one of eight siblings — was pushed into marriage after an agreement between her brother and her future-husband to marry each other's sisters to avoid having to pay expensive bride-prices — a common arrangement in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East.
According to police notes from the interrogation of the husband, he was upset because he could not consummate their relationship and felt under pressure to prove his manhood.
Assi's mother said she also tried to persuade her daughter to have sex with her husband so as not to shame the family.
Al-Hikmi took his young bride to a nearby medical clinic, asking a doctor there to administer her tranquilizers so she would not resist his advances. The clinic said it refused.
Al-Hikmi then obtained performance enhancing pills, according to the police interrogation, and that night completed the act while she screamed.
The next day, he returned to the same medical clinic carrying Assi because she could not walk . . . A forensic report obtained by the AP showed that Assi's injuries were much more extensive . . .
The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen and has drawn the attention of international rights groups seeking to pressure the government to outlaw child marriages.
"Early marriage places girls at increased risk of dropping out of school, being exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation, and even losing their lives from pregnancy, childbirth and other complications," said UNICEF's regional director Sigrid Kaag, in a statement Wednesday condemning the death.
A February 2009 law set the minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed and sent back to parliament's constitutional committee for review after some lawmakers called it un-Islamic. The committee is expected to make a final decision on the legislation this month.
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