The law banning child marriage in Yemen has caused a stir and parties supporting as well as opposing the law are staging demonstrations outside the parliament.
Hundreds of women rallied outside Yemen's parliament on Tuesday in support of the law, which sets a minimum age for women at 17 and men at 18, two days after a larger protest by conservative women, who are opposed.
AdvertisementThe rally was organised by the General Union of Yemeni Women and other women's organisations, in response to a Sunday protest by thousands of women against the bill that was called by Islamists and conservatives.
Among the protesters on Tuesday was Nojoud Mohammed Ali, who obtained a divorce two years ago after her father forced her to marry a man 20 years her senior when she was only eight.
"I am here to ask parliament not to touch the law that sets the marriage age at 17 years," she told reporters.
A delegation of protesters met with parliament speaker Yehya al-Raei and presented a petition with 1 million signatures in favour of the law.
"We will maintain the article fixing the marriage age but cancel prison sentences and fines that were provided for those who do not comply," Raei said.
Ramzia al-Iriyani, the president of the Union of Yemeni Women, which has long defended the legislation, lamented "the political storm" surrounding it and called on MPs to maintain the law, during the meeting with the speaker.
"We are not talking about early marriage (as a whole) in Yemen. It is that of children that we are addressing," said Nafissa al-Jaifi, a female doctor who heads the Supreme Council of Women and Children, a state organisation that has strongly supported the law.
She said that in the course of her work she had noticed that child marriages "increase the proportion of maternal mortality at birth," lead to the interruption of the brides' studies and cause a high rate of illiteracy among them.
The law was passed last year, but some MPs have submitted requests for its review. That has effectively blocked its implementation.
Some Muslims believe the minimum age of marriage need not be fixed since Islam did not do so, and that the Prophet Mohammed married his wife Aisha when she was nine years old.
"Fixing the age of marriage is an act that contradicts the precepts of Islam," said last week Sheikh Abdul Majid Zindani, head of the association of Yemeni clerics, who is also identified as a "global terrorist" by the United States for suspected links to Al-Qaeda.
The marriage of young girls is widespread in Yemen, an impoverished country with a strong tribal structure.
The death of a 12-year-old girl in childbirth in September illustrated the case of the country's "brides of death," many of whom are married off even before puberty.