Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

SOCIETY-YEMEN: Time To End Tourism Marriages

Nabil Sultan

SANA'A, Jun 24 2005 (IPS) - Sixty-three-year-old Hassan al-Hutami was happy enough when his daughter married a visiting Saudi. The happiness evaporated rapidly when he had a call from Yemeni border guards soon after the daughter had left home.

"They said, come and take back your daughter," he told IPS. "The man left my daughter. I found he had given a false name. He had also promised jobs for my sons in Saudi Arabia. Everything has been in vain."

This is the fate of many poor and beautiful Yemeni girls who marry rich Arab tourists and then find themselves abandoned.

"Parents from poor families welcome tourists because they think they have a lot of money, and think life for the whole family will improve after the marriage," social activist Elham al-Shalafi told IPS after a forum held in Ibb, about 150km south of capital Sana’a to discuss the problem. Several lawmakers, lawyers, sociologists and women’s rights activists attended the meeting.

"Foreign visitors, mostly from the Gulf states, come to our country to spend time with young Yemeni girls only as long as they stay in Yemen," Prof. Nadia Haza’a al-Masani from Ibb University said. "This is the worst kind of exploitation, and violence against women. Some of them just come back to these wives from summer to summer."

The problem of tourist marriages seems most severe in Ibb governorate in Yemen.

Most activists and analysts say poverty or greed drive many of the girls’ parents to accept these marriage offers. They are seeking introduction of a new law to govern marriages of Yemenis with foreigners.

They have called also for an awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of such tourism marriages. "These marriages can have a severe psychological and social impact on the wives and their families," Ahmad Shuja’adin, rector of Ibb University told IPS.

A study by Ibb University and the ministry of interior showed that 657 Yemeni women were given permits to marry foreigners last year. But the foreigners were not required to bring any papers from embassies of their countries to establish their credentials.

The Yemeni girls were often allowed to leave on the strength of identity cards. "Unfortunately, ID cards are being given to anyone willing to pay a bribe," Adel al-Sharjabi, professor of sociology in Sana’a University told IPS. "This must stop, and the concerned authorities must understand that they are finishing the Yemeni community."

In many of the cases reported – and activists fear there are many more that are not – the Gulf ‘grooms’ take their wives with them and then abandon them at the border. Guards often make the kind of calls they did to Hassan al-Hutami to ask parents to take their daughters back.

These marriages are particularly devastating for the girls and their families because they are legal. They are solemnised in religious ceremonies in the presence of witnesses.

Yemeni society does not accept the Zawaj al-Motaah, or ‘temporary marriages’, allowed in some Arabic nations. The women entering into such marriages do not believe the marriages are temporary.

"The conditions of these families gets from bad to worse when children are born who are fatherless," Shouqi al-Qadi, member of the rights and freedom group in Parliament told IPS.

Last year the government issued an order to permit Yemeni nationality for children born to Yemeni mothers whose foreign fathers had abandoned them for more than a year. So far 77 children have been given Yemeni nationality in these circumstances, officials said.

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