Source of the photo (Daraj)

Underage Marriage in Yemen: Minors Inside Cages


Wed, 09-08-2023 11:59 AM, Aden Time

"Marrying a minor is illegal and an ugly act against customs. This is because the underage female is not aware of the legal rights in order to build a sound home. Her body has not been fully developed to be ready for sexual intercourse."

Reem Al-Fadhli (South24)

Yemeni girl "Sanaa" was not aware of her subsequent suffering after getting married, at the age of 15, to a man in his twenties. She moved from her hometown, Taiz, to Sanaa in early 2020 leaving her family and relatives.

She found herself a victim of exploitation in a house that was supposed to be a source of comfort and stability for her. In her wedlock, the minor little girl was subjected to violations till she returned to her family carrying a two-day-old female baby.

Sanaa told "South24 Center" about her suffering from the violence of her husband. She said: "My biggest pain was after I gave birth to my daughter. When the doctor wrote an exit permit for me, I asked my husband to allow me to stay the postpartum period with my family. Surprisingly, he pulled me from my hand, gripping it with all his might. He dragged me behind him without giving any consideration to the presence of my family beside me".

"I resisted and refused to go with him. He then insulted me and beat my father. Then, I cried and released one year of pain and exhaustion. He treated me as if I am a servant for him and his siblings", she added.

Sanaa continued recalling her story by saying: "When I got married to him, he told me that he will be my support and will help me to resume my education from which was forced to drop out for the sake of marital life. However, from the first week, I discovered that everything he told me were mere lies"

Roots and legislation

Underage marriage is considered a negative social phenomenon that has long roots in the community, especially in North Yemen and the rural areas in South Yemen. Over the past decades, this phenomenon began storming Southern cities, including Aden that was known for its civility as well as its cultural, social and economic development.

This phenomenon has largely targeted weak and poor segments in the community such as the marginalized. However, it has not been limited to them. The war that began in 2015 has pushed this phenomenon in an escalating direction.

The Republic of Yemen laws has encouraged underage marriage. Prior to the 1990 Yemeni unity, People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) set 16 years [1] as the minimum marriage age for both genders. Similarly, Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) applied a similar measure by settling the marriage age at 15 years. [2]

After declaring the unity in 1990, the legal marriage age was set at 15 years [3] according to Law No. 20, 1992 which stipulated that "male or female under the age of 15 must not marry". However, this article was modified in 1999 under pressure from the Islamic Islah Party. [4]

This party that shared influence and power with the ruling General People's Congress Party had won a parliamentary battle in 1997. The new legislation revoked the marriage age in and replaced it with a condition that the girl should be ready for sexual intercourse.

It is hard to determine and distinguish the degree of readiness for sexual intercourse as stipulated. Moreover, the law limited marriage to sexual intercourse while it neglected other sides upon which this most sublime humanitarian relationship is based.

Furthermore, Article 20 of the "Personal Status Act" stipulated that "the marriage of one girl does not require its presence and that her male guardian can directly sign the contract". [5]

In this regard, academic and legal expert Heba Aidrous stressed on the negative repercussions related to underage marriage. She told "South24 Center": "The marriage of a female or a male at an early age in which they begin to identify a new phase of their life is a dangerous matter".

She added: "The lack of legal protection makes women and girls prone to domestic and sexual violence. We should not forget that some wives find themselves forced to bear violence and humiliation because their families, especially fathers, warn them on the marriage day of returning to them or ask for a divorce in case of being angry with their husbands".

She also said: "They are not aware of the dangers behind this decision that could destroy the life of an entire family and issue a moral death verdict against it. This has a negative impact on children and the life of daughters who have been victims of a failed marriage or a deal that has no humanitarian and spiritual considerations although God sanctified marriage and made it a solemn covenant".

Health and psychological harms 

Dr. Ahlam Al-Qadi, who works in the Department of Obstetrics, Al-Sadaqa Hospital in Aden, numerated the harms of early marriage on minors from a health perspective. She told "South24 Center": "Early marriage often means early pregnancy which is dangerous and causes harm for females under the age of 18".

She further explained: "As medically known, the typical age for marriage is between 18-35. Early marriage endangers the girl's life and leads to many risks. During pregnancy, a female is more vulnerable to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and high pressure".

"Due to the immaturity of the pelvis, she becomes more prone to obstructed labor which leads to cesarean childbirth surgeries and their dangerous risks emanating from it which amount to death," she said.

In a report about maternal mortality, the UN classified Yemen among "fragile states with an extremely high alert and high alert". The report said: "in 2020, the average maternal mortality was 551 per 100,000, over double the world average". [6]

UNICEF said that "girls who marry in childhood face immediate and lifelong consequences. They are less likely to remain in school, and face an increased risk of early pregnancy, in turn increasing the risk of child and maternal health complications and mortality". [7]

It added: "The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends, and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being".

In 2017, United Nations Population Fund in Yemen said: "Violence against women in Yemen has increased by 63% since the beginning of the conflict, and 2.6 million women are at risk of gender-based violence". [8]

Religious aspect 

Sheikh Mohammed Ramzu, the Director of STC’s Department of Thought and Guidance stressed that underage marriage is against Sharia (Islamic law).

He told "South24 Center": "Marrying a minor is illegal and an ugly act against the customs. This is because the underage female is not aware of the legal rights to build a sound home. Her body has not been fully developed to be ready for sexual intercourse".

He cited Prophet Mohammed's Honorable Hadith in which he said: "O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity, and whoever cannot then he should fast, for it will be a restraint (wija') for him". The term "young men" here refers to both genders while the term "Al-ba'a" means physical and financial capabilities, according to Sheikh Ramzu.

The latter added: "Islam didn't set a certain age for marriage as it left it as a custom among people. A male can propose for marriage when he reaches the age in which he is aware of the meaning of marriage which is full of compassion and mercy between the spouses according to God. A female can marry when she becomes mature enough to understand the meaning of marriage".

He pointed out that the Islamic religion has left the determination of the age of marriage to social customs. Therefore, the custom was made a source of Sharia after Quran, Sunna, and well-established scholars. When Imam Malik was the Imam of Al-Madina, he set 18 as the minimum marriage age after the spread of underage marriage, according to Sheikh Ramzu. 

As for the pretext related to Prophet Mohammad's marriage to Aisha, he said: "Some ignorant people takes this marriage as a pretext although Prophet Mohammed was ordered to marry Aisha. Secondly, Prophet Mohammed's era was different from the current age. They were tall. Every era has its proper humanitarian customs. Therefore, Prophet Mohammed said: " (You are more knowledgeable about the affairs of your world)".


Sheikh Mohammed Ramzu believes that it is necessary "to enact a civil law to set the female marriage". He added: "It should be similar to what had been applied here in South Yemen. Mosques, television, and forums should raise awareness within society in terms of religion and life ".

He criticized the role of the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance adding that "it does not make any awareness efforts and is not interested in this aspect".

Lawyer Heba Aidrous stressed the importance of "a project or program that would provide services to females who are victims of underage marriage such as programs for family counseling, psychological support, and legal aid. These services should be provided according to the needs of the case.”

She concluded: These services should spread in the areas that have many cases of early marriage to facilitate access to these cases which are not in the city. I believe this is currently possible till the end of the war and the establishment of a new parliament that can amend or create new laws".

Reem Al-Fadhli

Journalist and editor at South24 Center for News and Studies 


[1] Crooked Justice Scale in Yemen: Underage Marriage and Domestic Violence" (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

[2] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

[3] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

[4] Law No. (24) of 1999 to make an amendment in some provisions of the Republican Decree by Law No. (20) of 1992 regarding personal status (

[5] Republican Decree of Law No 20 for 1992 about personal status(

[6] Maternal mortality (

[7] Global poly-crisis creating uphill battle to end child marriage – UNICEF(

[8] United Nations Population Fund in Yemen: The finance we asked for is indeed the minimum to help female Yemenis affected by the conflict (

YemenUnderage marriageChild marriageSharia lawIslahHouthisSanaa