Child marriage must be harshly punished

Written by Liliana Rodrigues on 11 June 2018 in Opinion

The EU should set an example by prohibiting and criminalising early and forced marriage, writes Liliana Rodrigues.

Liliana Rodrigues | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

On 2 April 2008, in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, a 10-year-old Nujood Ali, makes an excuse to leave her house. Under the pretext of buying bread, Nujood gets into a taxi and asks to be taken to court. With the authority of her 10 years, she tells the judge, “I want a divorce”. 

Her story, ‘I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced’, is recorded in a book, written with the help of Delphine Minoui, a journalist based in Beirut. Nujood Ali is the daughter of one of Yemen’s many families living below the poverty line. She migrated to the capital with her parents and siblings, after being expelled from her village because of a conflict involving the rape of one of her older sisters. In the city, her father lost his job and the children started to beg in the street. 

“She is too young to marry”, said her sister Mona, when her father announced that Nujood would marry an older man. 


“Too young? When the Prophet Muhammad married Aïsha, she was only nine years old”, their father replied. Nujood was married against her will. That night, she was raped by her new husband, a “man who smelled of onion”.

Nujood screamed for help from her mother-in-law. No one came to her defence and she eventually fainted. “Congratulations”, her mother and sister in-law said the next morning. Her life as a married girl had begun, working in the kitchen during the day and being beaten and raped at night.

“I could not stand it anymore,” Nujood Ali told the judge.

About half of Yemen’s girls are married in childhood or adolescence to adult males. Although 2018 has been a landmark year in terms of women’s rights, child marriage remains a terrible reality for too many girls in the world. Currently, more than 700 million girls are married before the age of 18, and 250 million before the age of 15. This number tends to increase with world population growth. Every year, 15 million girls are forced to marry - 28 girls per minute. 

If we continue at this rate, over the next decade, more than 150 million children will be forced into marriage. According to a Unicef report, by 2050 about 1.2 billion girls could be married before the age of 18. Cases like Nujood Ali’s are not an exception.

The EU should set an example by prohibiting and criminalising early and forced marriage, by raising the minimum legal age to 18 years (irrespective of parental consent and with the full consent of both spouses), and by imposing sanctions for those who coerce individuals into marriage. We must systematically and rigorously evaluate existing programmes dedicated to the prevention of early marriage, their effectiveness and the use of available funding. We must ensure that these programmes are implemented in the regions and countries where child marriage is most likely, and we should also reflect on the relevance of making European funds for external action dependent on the effective implementation of measures to eradicate this scourge.

Child marriage is totally unacceptable and must be harshly punished.


About the author

Liliana Rodrigues (S&D, PT) is a member of Parliament's women's rights and gender equality committee

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