The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen and has drawn the attention of international rights groups seeking to pressure the government to outlaw child marriages. Legislation that would make it illegal for those under the age of 17 to marry is in serious peril after strong opposition from some of Yemen's most influential Islamic leaders.
The 13-year-old girl from Hajja province, northwest of the capital, died on April 2, four days after her marriage to a 23-year-old man, said Majed al-Madhaji, a spokesman for the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights. A medical report from al-Thawra hospital said she suffered a tear to her genitals and severe bleeding.
Authorities detained the husband.
The Yemeni rights group said the girl was married off in an agreement between two men to marry each other's sisters to avoid having to pay expensive bride-prices. The group said that was a common arrangement in the deeply impoverished country.
Yemen's gripping poverty plays a role in hindering efforts to stamp out the practice, as poor families find themselves unable to say no to bride-prices in the hundreds of dollars for their daughters.
More than a quarter of Yemen's females marry before age 15, according to a report last year by the Social Affairs Ministry. Tribal custom also plays a role, including the belief that a young bride can be shaped into an obedient wife, bear more children and be kept away from temptation.
Last month, a group of the country's highest Islamic authorities declared those supporting a ban on child marriages to be apostates.
A February 2009 law set the minimum age for marriage at 17, but it was repealed and sent back to parliament's constitutional committee for review after some lawmakers called it un-Islamic. The committee is expected to make a final decision on the legislation this month.
Some of the clerics who signed the decree against a ban sit on the committee.
Further imperiling the effort is the weak government's reluctance to confront the clerics and other conservative tribal officials, whose support is essential to their fragile hold on power.
The issue of Yemen's child brides got widespread attention three years ago when an 8-year-old girl boldly went by herself to a courtroom and demanded a judge dissolve her marriage to a man in his 30s. She eventually won a divorce, and legislators began looking at ways to curb the practice.
In September, a 12-year-old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three days in labor to give birth, a local human rights organization said.
Yemen once set 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but parliament annulled that law in the 1990s, saying parents should decide when a daughter marries.