CAIRO – Reports about the death of an eight-year-old girl in Yemen of internal injuries on the first night of her marriage to a man more than five times her age has sparked anger over the widespread practice, denied vehemently by Yemeni officials.
“Her family and her groom could have waited for some time before having this marriage,” a blogger using the moniker “Sad” was quoted by Gulf News.
“It was not fair at all and the marriage should not have happened even if some tribes believe that it is a good custom.”
The story was first caught by the Kuwait daily Al-Watan which said that an eight-year old Yemeni school girl, Rawan, has reportedly died from internal injuries on her wedding night in the northern province of Hajja.
Sparking outrage worldwide, the case prompted calls for immediate and harsh sanctions against whoever was involved in allowing a pre-pubescent eight-years old Yemeni school girl to marry a man in his 40s.
As the news spread, people took their protests to Twitter, Facebook and their personal blogs, determined to protest child marriage and what they perceived as child abuse.
Other bloggers offered their prayers for the “bride”, lashing out at the “groom” and the girl’s family.
Angry Man, a blogger, posted that the man was “an animal who deserved to be punished severely for his crime.”
“All those who supported such a crime should also be punished,” he said.
Bu Omar said that he was disturbed by the death report.
“Rawan’s family members are not humans. They do not deserve to have children,” he said.
Rights activists have also condemned the report, urging Yemeni authorities to pursue the matter legally.
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.
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.
As outrage is growing in magnitude, Yemeni officials denied the accident, rejecting the media version of the story.
“When I heard the rumors, I called the girl’s father. He came with his daughter and denied the marriage and death of his daughter,” said Mosleh Al Azzani, the director of Criminal Investigation in Harradh district where the marriage allegedly took place, Yemen Post reported.
“I have the photos of the girl and will show it to anyone.”
Aziz Saleh, a local investigative journalist also confirmed that he personally contacted the authorities and received assurances that media reports had been fabricated.
“All of them maintained that neither the marriage nor death had taken place,” he said.
Ahmed al-Qurishi, the head of SEYAJ Organization for Childhood Protection, an NGO which advocates children’s rights also denied the media version of the story.
“I got in touch with the director of Criminal Investigation, Hajja’s prosecutor and the province’s security chief who all flatly denied the story,” he said.
Al Qurishi said that his organization conducted its own investigation into the issue by sending some activists to the area.
“The preliminary results show that the story was untrue,” he said.
“Some people create these stories to get publicity and attention and aid from international organizations.”
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.