Yemeni Human Rights Minister Huriya Mashhoor said on Saturday that she will press for the minimum age of marriage to be raised to 18, after the reported death of a young girl on her wedding night.
Eight-year-old Rawan was said to have died last week from internal bleeding after sexual intercourse, following her marriage to a man in his 40s in the northeastern province of Hajja.
However, provincial governor Ali al-Qaissi denied the reports that Rawan had died.
Mashmoor said she wanted to revive a bill that has lain dormant since 2009, which would have set the minimum age for marriage at 17, and raise it the age to 18.
Activists say the bill was shelved when ultraconservative lawmakers from the Islamist al-Islah party blocked it.
“We are asking to fix the legal age for marriage at 18, as Yemen is a signatory to the international convention on children’s rights,” Mashhoor said.
The minister spoke a day after the government formed a committee to investigate reports about the girl’s death. However, al-Qaissi told official news agency SABA on Saturday that Rawan was still alive.
“The young girl Rawan Abdo Hattan is still alive and normally lives with her family who, in turn, deny the whole thing,” he said.
He added that “the young girl is currently in a social protection center after undergoing physical and psychological tests in a public hospital” in the area.
Before the denial from the governor, Mashhoor had said: “We do not have enough evidence at the moment” about the incident.
“I am worried that there could be an attempt to silence the matter, especially as it took place in an isolated rural area in Hajja Province where there have been similar cases before,” she said.
“If the case was confirmed and covered up, then the crime would be more serious,” Mashhoor said.
Mashhoor has been involved in a campaign against the marriage of child brides in Yemen, ravaged by years of strife and widespread poverty. There is no clear definition in the country of what constitutes a child, making it difficult to battle the practice.
That 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent before 18, citing Yemeni and 2006 data from the UN, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday last week.
In certain rural areas, girls as young as eight are sometimes given in marriage to men much older than they. The problem caused worldwide outrage in 2010, with the case of Nujod Mohamed Ali.
She had been married at the age of 10 to a man 20 years her senior in 2008, and was granted a divorce after he sexually abused and beat her.
Ali became involved in campaigns against forced underage marriages, leading to calls to ban women from marrying before the age of 18.
Before the unification of Yemen in 1990, the legal age of marriage was set at 15 in the north and 16 in the south. However, legislation in the united country does not specify any age limit.