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Yemeni girls generally do not have much opportunity for self-development. The percentage of fourteen-year-old girls neither in school or employed in Yemen is the highest in the world: 44 percent (boys 18 percent), with an urban-rural split of 18 percent and 52 percent (World Development Report 2007). In 2010, 567,702 primary-school-age children were not enrolled in primary of secondary school (source World Bank). In most families, girls are taken out of school at a young age in order to prepare for maternity. In the last decades, the average marriage age has risen from ten to fifteen years (for men, from 21 to 21.5), although 52 percent of girls still marry before they turn 18 (7 percent for boys) (World Development Report 2006).

One in seven girls marries before reaching the age of fourteen. Geographical variations are great. In al-Mukalla (on the south coast), the average marriage age was ten, while in al-Hudayda and the Hadramawt it was eight. In the larger cities, modernization is proceeding. Girls are now entering the public space in fast-growing numbers, although they remain veiled and are still a minority. In 2008, an amendment proposed by the National Women’s Committee to raise the minimum marriage age to eighteen years was rejected by Parliament. The case of Nujood Ali, a nine-year-old Sanaa girl forcibly married to a violent man three times her age, drew global attention, after which a proposal to raise the marriage age to seventeen years was accepted by Parliament but then rejected for unknown reasons.

In Sanaa Photo Shutterstock
In Sanaa Photo Shutterstock

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