SANAA – Yemenis are marrying off their daughters at a very early age, a practice seen by Muslim imams as rooted in tribal traditions, rather than in Islamic teachings.
"Much of child marriages are rooted in tribal tradition and not in Islam," Sheikh Mohamed al- Iryani, an Imam in Aden, told OnIslam.net.
He blamed poverty and fear of stigma for the common practice in the Arab Peninsula country.
"Poor families see raising daughters as a heavy burden which they are happy to unload on someone else at the first opportunity," he said.
"It is contrary to our teachings but as long as local Imams agree to perform the ceremonies it will continue.
Child marriages are widespread in Yemen.
Estimates show that 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married off before the age of 18 and 14 percent before the age of 15.
There are some cases in which young girls as little as 8 were being allowed to enter a marital union.
Well-remembered is the case of Nujud, a young Yemeni girl who challenged her family, demanding that a judge freed her from her abusive husband by dissolving her marriage.
“We as a society need to tackle this issue and launch some sort of a national dialogue," said Iryani.
Marriage in Islam is of utmost importance as it is upon the lawful union of a man and a woman that society grows strong and that moral is preserved.
In Islam it is not permissible for the guardian to compel the one under his guardianship to marry someone she does not desire to marry.
Rather, it is necessary to seek her consent and permission.
Human rights activists have called for setting a minimum age limit to marriage to help uproot the phenomenon.
"Setting a minimum age limit to marriages will help prevent child abuse and young bride trafficking," Nadya Khalife, a women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, told OnIslam.net.
"Yemen’s political crisis has left issues such as child marriage at the bottom of the political priority list.
"But now is the time to move on this issue, setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, to ensure that girls and women who played a major role in Yemen’s protest movement will also contribute to shaping Yemen’s future."
Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the highest religious body in the Sunni Muslim world, has recently issued a manual on the rights of Muslim children.
"Marriage in Islam is regulated by certain rules, namely, children must reach puberty and maturity so that they can get married," the manual said.
A recent HRW report said the repercussions of child marriages reverberate throughout Yemeni society as it prevents women from completing their education, keeping Yemen in a state of prolonged ignorance.
“Education is the key to progress," said Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour.
"If we are to build a strong Yemen, we need our people to push on their study, child marriages prevent that."