Cyberspace exploded with righteous indignation, as viral accounts spread the word of the apparent wedding-night death of an eight-year-old Yemeni bride. The prepubescent Haijah Province girl, known as Rawan, reportedly succumbed to internal bleeding from vaginal and uterine tearing she suffered after marrying a 40-year-old man.
Immediately, human rights organizations seized upon the Northwestern Yemen case, calling for prosecution of the husband, the girl’s family, and others involved in the case, as well as a ban on nuptials involving children. Leaders from the European Union and the United Nations expressed outrage as well, calling for a minimum age for marriage.
Snopes.com, a popular cyber-myth-busting website, tagged the story’s veracity as “Undetermined” on September 11. Snopes cited a September 9 report in the Gulf News of Dubai, which indicated Yemeni law enforcement officials had reported the girl’s father had denied his daughter’s marriage and her death.
An international investigation into the child bride’s reported demise, however, is ongoing, even if local prosecution seems to be stalled.
Sadly, in many corners of the world, families offer their young daughters in arranged marriages to much older men to reduce their own dependents and for the dowries the girls can fetch. In plenty of cases, daughters are forced to wed.
But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically calls for each individual to give personal consent before marriage.
Still, child brides are common in many spots, with hosts of girls married before they even reach child-bearing age.
In Yemen, more than 25 percent of all females are wed before age 15, according to a 2010 report. Tribal customs advocate this practice, with many men preferring youthful brides for their apparent tractability. Similar practices have been documented in India, as well as certain locales in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
In much of the world, those engaging in sexual relations with underage minors are prosecuted as sexual predators and child molesters. Dare we hope this humanitarian principle may someday hold true worldwide?
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