By Gerri Elder
While U.S. laws governing polygamy and marriage eligibility age have been getting a lot of media attention after the recent raid by Texas officials of the Eldorado compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), how's this for an interesting yet disturbing story.
On April 15, a Yemeni divorce court issued a ruling to terminate the marriage of a 30-year-old man and the 8-year-old girl he had married two months ago.
The child filed for divorce and accused her husband of physically abusing her before forcing her to have sex with him during the marriage. She had been forced to marry the 30-year-old man by her father, who she says beat her and told her that if she did not marry the man, she would be raped and that no law or sheikh in the country would help her. She did not agree to marry the man; however she says that she was powerless to stop the wedding ceremony.
After the wedding, the girl says that she begged her mother, father and aunt to help her get a divorce. They all refused and gave her no option but to file for a divorce with the court on her own. So that's exactly what this child decided to do. She ran away from her husband and petitioned the court for a divorce from her abusive husband according to a report by Reuters.
The girl's father and husband showed up at court for the divorce hearing. A divorce lawyer who had heard about the child bride was also in court to represent the girl. Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries and according to a BBC News report, child brides are common because there is no legal minimum age for marriage. This case received much more attention than most because the little girl was able to take her case to court and ask for a divorce. Reporters and human rights activists packed the courtroom, calling for better child protection in Yemen.
While it is legal for an adult man to marry a child bride in the country, the children are not legally allowed to live with their husbands until they reach puberty. The child in this case told the court that she signed the marriage contract under duress, but also with the understanding that she would be allowed to continue living with her parents until she turned 18. Instead, she was forced to go live with her husband a week after signing the marriage contract. At the divorce hearing, her husband told the court that the marriage was consummated, but he denied the girl's allegations that he had physically abused her.
The judge did not grant the child a divorce, but instead annulled the marriage so that the husband could not have the marriage reinstated. In order to complete the termination of the marriage, a payment of the equivalent of $250 was required from the child's family to the girl's husband. The Yemeni Times reported that an anonymous donor paid the compensation on behalf of the girl's family.
The little girl is happy to put the forced marriage and abuse behind her. She now lives with her uncle and his family, and is safe. She says that she is happy to be able to go back to school and feels lucky that she was able to have the marriage terminated.