After years of decline, child marriages are skyrocketing in Yemen. (Because, War)

The war in Yemen – which is now entering its third year of active conflict – is having a devastating impact on the population. Almost the entire country is affected, with alarming rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. The public health system is threatening to collapse entirely, with more than two-thirds of the population entirely cut off from health care.

The situation is incredibly dire, and children are bearing the brunt of this protracted violent conflict.

According to a new UNICEF report, nearly 10 million – or almost over 80% of all children in Yemen – are in need of humanitarian assistance. Close to half a million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition – a 200 per cent increase since 2014 – raising the risk of famine. The future of an entire generation of young Yemenis – a country whose population has essentially doubled in the last 30 years – appears very dim, as households struggle to cope. Children are being deprived of opportunities, as thousands of boys get enrolled in militias, and girls are married off far too young.

To Make Matters Worse, Child Marriage Rates Are Soaring

While child marriage was prevalent in Yemen even before the conflict, the situation is far worse now. “One of the first casualties when families are displaced and lose their incomes is girls,” said UNICEF’s spokesman in Yemen, Rajat Madhok. Astonishingly, nearly 45% of girls in Yemen are married by the age of 15 – a huge increase from 10 years ago, in 2006, when only 14% of girls were married by the same age.

One of the key reasons we see such staggering levels of child marriage in Yemen – a practice which research has shown “abruptly ends a girls’ childhood and immediately puts her health and future prospects in danger” – is that it is one of the few countries where there is no legal minimum age for marriage. In the context of a violent conflict where half of households are living with less than $2/day, families see a compelling economic argument to marry off their daughters. Indeed, in addition to the expected dowry payment, a child sold into marriage means is one less mouth to feed, a terrible choice which families on the brink, coping to survive, are finding themselves making more and more frequently as the conflict rages on.

With so few resources going around and few – if any – legal protections for girls and young women, today, by age 18, 72.5% of Yemeni girls are married. These statistics alone are frightening – millions of girls and young women are not only being put at physical and psychological risk, but are also being denied a chance to get an education and have lives of their own.

Yemen’s War & Children – The Scary Numbers

  • The number of children killed in Yemen’s conflict increased by 70 per cent, and nearly twice as many children were injured and recruited into the fighting since March 2016 compared to the same period last year.
  • In the past two years, the United Nations verified that at least 1,572 boys were recruited and used in the conflict, up from 850 last year.
  • 2.2 million children are malnourished, and nearly 500,000 have severe acute malnutrition.
  • The cost of living is 40% higher than pre-crisis levels.
  • Half of children are stunted.
  • Gender-based violence has increased by 63%.
  • As of January 2017, 10,806 cases of rape and other unspeakable acts of violence against girls and women were reported since the start of the conflict – the tip of the iceberg.

And these are just a few of the jaw-dropping statistics – check out the full report here.

Different humanitarian agencies and organizations have made massive financial appeals to fund the complex emergency response in Yemen. Billions of dollars will be required to ensure that Yemen doesn’t sink into a devastating famine, further dimming the prospects for Yemeni children and youth.