several hundred protested today in Yemen to support a law banning the marriage of girls under the age of 17. Just two days ago thousands protested against the same law. Underneath a burning sun and covered from head to toe in black niqabs, the demonstrators, who arrived in the city on about ten buses on Sunday, warned the parliamentary committee that will examine the text of the law in the coming month to reject it because, they chanted, “it is not permissible to ban what God allows”.
Supporting their view is also a ‘fatwa’ (religious legal pronouncement) stating that those who support the law are apostate. The fatwa was signed by a group of influential religious figures including Sheikh Abdul Majid al Zindani, who according to the U.S. was one of the spiritual teachers of Osama bin Laden. Today a response arrived: a rally organised by various groups for the defence of women’s rights in Yemen, many of which support the government. In reality, not many people were present at the event held in front of Parliament, but the group did include Nojoud Mohammad Ali, who has become a symbolic figure in the fight against forced marriages in Yemen.
Nojoud was forced to marry a 28-year-old man when she was eight, but in 2008 she reported her father to authorities and obtained a divorce. Many today also remembered Fawzia Abdallah Youssef, who died in September of last year due to a haemorrhage in the Saudi Arabian hospital of Hajja, north of Sanàa, while she was giving birth to a still-born baby at the age of 12, which she had with her husband, who she had married the year before. The practice of forced marriages in Yemen is well rooted and the law that intends to regulate them in reality was already approved in February last year, but was then blocked and sent to the parliamentary commission to be examined by a group of delegates who labelled it as anti-Islamic. According to a study by the Social Affairs Ministry, one-fourth of Yemenites marry before the age of 15. This is partly due to a tribal structure of society and widespread poverty, especially in rural areas, while religion also plays a fundamental role in the practice. (ANSAmed).