A 12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, has died during a difficult delivery in which her baby also died, a children's rights organisation said on Sunday, demanding action to stop Yemeni men from taking child brides.
"The child, Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, died on Friday in western Yemen at the age of 12 due to a complicated delivery," the Yemeni Organisation for Childhood Protection (Seyaj) said.
The organisation said its volunteers had confirmed that doctors had been unable to save Fawziya's life after she suffered complications from the delivery. The Daily Mail reported the labour lasted three days.
Raised in an impoverished family with a father suffering from kidney failure, Fawziya was forced to drop out of school and married off at the age of 11. She fell pregnant a year later, the group said.
"The lack of a statutory minimum age for marriage makes it impossible for local officials to ban child marriages, especially among girls, or to punish their parents or spouses for the disastrous consequences of such marriages," Seyaj said, adding that such marriages were widespread on Yemen's Red Sea coast.
"The case of Fawziya illustrates the tragedy of those whom we call 'the brides of death', who are little girls, less than 15 years old, forced into marriage, mostly due to financial reasons," Seyaj director Ahmed al-Qorashi said.
He said the proportion of little girls and teenage females married before 15 was nearly 50 per cent in rural parts of Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
"These marriages are the result of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy, and lead to the destruction of the lives of these young girls, whose opinion is not taken in consideration," Qorashi added.
Last year, a Yemeni court granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage with a man 20 years her senior, saying he feared she might otherwise be kidnapped by the would-be spouse.
The case of Nojud Mohammed Ali shed light on the suffering of the many adolescent girls forced into marriage.
"This is a real tragedy in which the Government is the top responsible party, because the President [Ali Abdullah Saleh] has until now not promulgated the law [on a minimum age for marriage] adopted by Parliament in February," said the lawyer who obtained Nojud's divorce, Shaza Nasser.
She said the Government "should launch awareness campaigns in rural areas and prevent clerics from concluding marriage contracts" for girls under the age of 17.
She said authorities also had the duty to make sure girls received schooling in a country where illiteracy rates are estimated at 33.4 per cent among men and reach 76 per cent among women.
Since she won Nojud's case, Nasser has been contacted by many girls in similar situations who were encouraged to speak out by her success in the courts. She has already helped a 10-year-old girl, Arwa, to get a divorce.
She said she was working on the case of a teenager who had been married by her father at the age of two because he needed the money. The marriage contract allowed her to remain with her parents until the age of 13 when she was expected to consummate the union.