Brutal Death of Child Bride Causes International Concern

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The shocking practice of arranging marriages for girls under the age of 15 is once again making headlines after a 13 year-old child bride in Yemeni bled to death just days after her marriage to a 23 year-old husband.

The Associated Press is reporting that Elham Assi, 13, bled to death in the Yemeni village of Shueba a few days after marrying to Abed al-Hikmi. Police reports say Al-Hikmi became upset when he could not consummate his marriage. Feeling pressured to prove his manhood, he took Elham to a local clinic and asked them to give her sedatives so that she would  not resist him. When the clinic refused, he went elsewhere and obtained performance enhancing drugs.

That night, he brutalized the girl to such an extent that she could not walk the following morning. He carried her to the clinic where doctors found extensive injuries to her body and warned al-Hikmi not to touch her again for at least 10 days.

Unfortunately, al-Hikmi did not heed this advice. A forensic report obtained by the AP showed that Elham’s injuries were extensive and included tearing around the vagina and rectum.

Her mother, Nijma Ahmed, visited her daughter on the day she died and said the child was fading in and out of consciousness.

“She whispered in my ear that he had tied her up and had sex with her violently,” she said. “I said to her husband, what have you done, you criminal?”

Her son-in-law insisted that Elham was possessed and said he would take her to a folk healer to have the demons cast out, but the girl died hours later. Al-Hikmi is now in police custody.

The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. According to a 2009 report by the country’s Ministry of Social Affairs, nearly a quarter of all females marry before the age of 15. Young brides are preferred because they are said to be more obedient and can bear more children.

However, the practice is not limited to Yemen. It is also widespread in Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Indian and throughout the Middle East. In the rural villages of these countries, mostly uneducated girls are married off at the young age of 11 with some families allowing their daughters to marry as young as seven years-old.

In Afghanistan, it is believed that between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced.

The problem also exists to some extent in the United States and England in religious cults such as in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) whose practice of marrying young girls to older men was revealed by several cult members who reported the crimes to police. FLDS leader, Warren Jeffs, is currently serving two consecutive prison terms of five years to life for his conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape for facilitating the marriage of children in his church.
In Elham’s case, she was pushed into marriage after an agreement between her brother and her future-husband to marry each other’s sisters to avoid having to pay expensive bride-prices — a common arrangement in Yemen.

Legislation to ban child brides in Yemen and set the minimum age for marriage at 17, has been stalled by opposition from religious leaders, who say it is un-Islamic. A final decision on the law is expected to be made this month.

International groups have long called for an end to the barbaric practice. The issue achieved global attention several years ago with an eight year-old girl went by herself to a courtroom and demanded that a judge dissolve her mrraige to a 30 year-old man. She eventually won a divorce.

Last September, a 12 year-old Yemeni child bride died after struggling for three days to give birth.

In a statement condemning the most recent death of Elham, UNICEF’s regional director Sigrid Kaag said: “Early marriage places girls at increased risk of dropping out of school, being exposed to violence, abuse and exploitation, and even losing their lives from pregnancy, childbirth and other complications.”

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