The Painful Death of a Yemen Child Bride

12 year old Fawziyah Abdullah Youssef dies in childbirth after 3 days of labor.

ByABC News
September 14, 2009, 12:41 PM

DUBAI, UAE, Sept. 14, 2009— -- After days of struggling through labor a 12-year-old "child bride" has died in Yemen, her baby a stillborn.

Fawziyah Abdullah Youssef was married last year at the age of 11 to a 24-year-old. In a custom that is common in Yemen, her parents pulled her from school so that she could be given to her betrothed.

"Families think child marriage is a good thing…that it comes directly from Islam. They don't understand the dangers," Ahmad Al-Qureishi of Seyaj, a Yemeni children's rights group, tells ABC News.

The dangers are apparent in statistic gathered by the United Nations. Yemen has a high maternal death rate of 430 women per 100,000 births – more than 20 times that of its neighbor, Saudi Arabia -- and is in the top 50 countries ranked for high infant mortality.

Most of the maternal deaths are for early pregnancy, according to UNICEF.

"It's a deeply embedded social habit. For every one child marriage we can stop there are five more," said Naseem Rehman, a UNICEF spokesman in Yemen's capital of Sana'a.

Rehman says child brides in Yemen face a "triple disadvantage," having to cope with a lost childhood, a pregnancy their bodies aren't ready to handle, and often forced to give birth at home, far from any health facility.

An estimated 50 percent of women in Yemen are married before age 18, some as young as eight. In recent years Yemen's civil society and women's rights activists have pushed back against the practice, which is prevalent in what has long been the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.

Calls For New Law

In February Yemen's parliament passed a child marriages law setting a minimum age of 17, but it has yet to be enacted. The bill has long been challenged by conservative lawmakers who say it would contradict the laws of Islam.

The law also challenges rural and tribal customs. Marriages are often arranged by parents to serve the family's interests; a child marriage can bring a dowry payment, and relieves a household from having to feed one more child.