A twelve-year-old girl in Yemen, Elham Mahdi al Assi, has died of internal bleeding just five days after she was married to a man in his twenties.he injuries from which she ultimately died resulted from being brutally sexually assaulted by her new husband, according to the Yemen Observer, one of the country’s leading newspapers. In Yemen, where there is no minimum age set for marriage and where rape of a woman by her husband is not criminalised, more than half of the girls are married before they reach puberty. Grassroots activists who are fighting for the introduction of legislation to set a minimum age for marriage have been the target of increasingly savage attacks over the last month, branded as infidels and secularists for their opposition to early marriage and other harmful practices that not only violate basic human rights but also put the lives of women and girls at risk.

Statement by Alison Smith, Legal Counsel of No Peace Without Justice:

“Elham’s death is a stark illustration of what can happen when the basic human rights of girls and women are not protected. There is simply no excuse for what happened to Elham; our thoughts and sympathies are with her family at this very difficult time.

“Unfortunately, on top of this tragedy, there is a very real risk that her death will be just another statistic.  There is no law against child marriage and there is no law against child rape when perpetrated in the marital context so it is difficult to see what will be the result of the investigation that has been launched by the Yemeni authorities.  Until there are laws in place that protect girls against this kind of abuse, it will be hard for justice even to be sought, let alone done, for Elham and the thousands of girls who are forced into the same kind of situation that led to her death.

“No Peace Without Justice and the Transnational Nonviolent Radical Party call upon the Yemeni authorities to take immediate steps to ensure that other girls do not meet Elham’s fate by enacting legislation to protect girls from child marriage, to protect wives from being raped by their husbands and to ensure that there is widespread knowledge that this kind of situation is not tolerable any longer.

“Similarly, there is simply no excuse for the vicious attacks against grassroots activists and others who are working for a world where the basic human rights of girls and women are protected, wherever they may be.   Regardless of the name in which the attacks are being carried out, they must stop.

“We stand together with our partners in Yemen and in countries around the world who are fighting for the protection of the basic human rights of girls and women. We call on the Government of Yemen to take immediate action to protect human rights defenders in Yemen who are being attached because of their work to protect the human rights of girls and women. We further call on the member States of the European Union and on all States around the world to take urgent action to support the grassroots activists who are working both to stop these kinds of situations from arising and to address the consequences when they do, through their work particularly on trauma counseling, medical support and advocacy.”

For further information, please contact Alison Smith, on asmith@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32 (0)2 548-3910.