In an impassioned HuffPost editorial, Yemen’s Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population, Dr. Jamela Saleh Alraiby has emphatically condemned the harmful practice of early marriage:
Child marriage is an extreme form of violence which strips girls from their basic human right — which is the right to live. …In Yemen, we lose many young girls, either from violent sex/rape (such as in the case of Elham Assi, a 13-year-old girl who bled to death after being forced to have intercourse with her 23 year-old husband) or from complications of early pregnancy and child birth (such as Samah, a 12-year-old girl who lost her life while giving birth to a baby girl in a health facility)… [M]any young girls suffer with life-long disabilities (such as fistula) and are then rejected from their families as a result. Many girls drop out of school when they are married young, thus losing their right to education and life skills needed to participate in the workforce — and the absence of their participation in economic development has consequences.
Alraiby also serves the on Board of The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Yemen, a civic group that is collaborating with Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population and other partners to advance legislation mandating a minimum age for marriage in Yemen. The Alliance is tapping into Yemeni youth and faith leaders to raise awareness about the harmful practice and drive social change:
Fighting to ban child marriage in Yemen is so difficult as it has religious, cultural and tribal roots, but this challenge gives us more strength to save our girls and to stop the violence they are exposed to, to assure that they have the means and tools to make their own decisions, and to ensure their participation in sustainable development.
Alraiby practices what she preaches. When a family asked Alraiby for her own teenage daughter’s hand in marriage, Alraiby left the decision to daughter Sara. Sara’s answer: “It is too early and I want to finish my studies.” Alraiby praised her daughter’s decision to delay marriage. “I want all girls in Yemen to have the same choice as my daughter did,” says Alraiby, “to choose their own destiny, to make their decisions without any pressure and to not be controlled under the guise of ‘protection’.”
As more and more women like Alraiby come into positions of influence and authority around the world, they are leading the movement to eradicate harmful cultural practices and gender-based violence. “My dream,” says Alraiby, “is that every Yemeni girl has the chance to education and can live a safe life, not threatened by a forced marriage when she is only a child.”
READ MORE: The Suffering of Girls Must Stop, HuffPost (June 22, 2012).