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Child Marriages Increasing as War in Yemen Continues

At-risk communities are usually the first and most likely to suffer most during times of war. In this instance, it is women and girls in Yemen.

The Yemeni Civil War broke out in March 2015, killing over 8,600 people killed and injuring 49,000 to date. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen airports and ports brought an additional three million people into an already historic famine. Though they’ve recently reduced the blockade limitations, Yemenis are suffering in more ways than than just hunger.

As has been seen recently in the case of Syrian refugees, Yemeni girls are being forced into child marriages at an increased rate due to the instability brought on by war. For a father in Yemen, marriage is a way to protect his daughter from being raped in the street and losing her honor or from going hungry in her own home.

Local activists tried to rally politicians to prevent this before the war, hoping to get them to enact a law banning the marriage of all girls under the age of 18. Their efforts failed, however, and tens of thousands of girls have since lost the majority of their rights and free will, being traded into marriages decided on by everyone besides the bride herself.

One of these girls, given the name “Soad” to protect her identity, was interviewed as a part of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

Soad was married about a year ago at the age of 14 to a 75-year-old man. After being beat at the hands of her husband and his family, Soad ran away to a United Nations Population Fund shelter, where she currently lives.

“I just want to live my life,” she told interviewers. “I dream of having an education.”

Even women with an education find life in Yemen difficult, though. Amatela Al Hammadi, a woman attending university in Marib, says that while there are more women in college now, they aren’t able to do much with their education.

“There are more women in the colleges now, yes,” she says. “But what do they do with that education? The woman who holds the highest-ranking job in the whole of Marib is a head teacher. Our voices are not being listened to. We are not present in meetings that decide our lives; we don’t take decisions at any political or civil society level.”

As it is for Soad, it is for the most free women living in Yemen. Still, hope is never hard to come by.

“This is the land of Queen Belquis,” said Ms Hammadi. “Yemeni women have always been capable. We will always be capable. We just need the opportunity to prove it.”

Featured Image by Gareth Williams on Flickr

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