In her words: A child bride from Yemen forced to grow up too fast

Women learn tailoring skills as part of a vocational training programme at a UNFPA-supported safe space. © UNFPA Yemen | Photo does not depict subject featured in story.
  • 10 February 2022

Ibtisam* is a 16-year-old girl living in Yemen who shared her story of marrying at 14. Of the 4 million girls married before the age of 18 in Yemen, 1.4 million were married before age 15.

SALAH DISTRICT, Taiz Governorate, Yemen – Since I was young, I have been dreaming of becoming a doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology because of the increasing number of deaths as a result of early marriage. When war erupted and the conflict increased, many families suffered, losing their jobs and becoming displaced. I moved with my family from another district near relatives in search of safety. 

Displacement was the reason for my marriage because my parents were afraid that I, their only daughter, was mixing with my male cousins. 

At 14, I was married to a cousin ten years older than me in a small ceremony. I left school, my friends and my family. I was unhappy but had no choice but to accept the situation, and within a month, I became pregnant. 

When circumstances stabilized enough, my parents moved back to our old house, leaving me alone with my husband. To my surprise, he started to mistreat me. He began to doubt that the child was his and often hit my stomach in an attempt to end the pregnancy. 

I tried to communicate with my family in vain, until the day came when I could not bear the beating and bleeding and asked a [UNFPA-supported] safe space I had heard about for protection.

There I received psychological support and health services. They referred me to a shelter, but I did not want to go. Instead, the safe space contacted my parents and provided me with a case manager to accompany me on my move home. 

I had not been used to this amount of care, attention and follow-up on my condition since the outbreak of the war. As soon as I arrived at my father’s house, it was the paradise in which I found comfort. After weeks of receiving psychological support sessions in the safe space for women and girls, I improved a lot, and my mind was busy with the child who would be born.

Women with sewing machines
With newly acquired tailoring skills, women are economically empowered to support themselves. © UNFPA Yemen 

The safe space also had a vocational training programme – I learned tailoring for three months so I could support myself and eventually became a trainer to teach other women. 

I did not expect for my country to still have a human side; things just seemed hopeless. But the help I received and the people who stood by my side to help me overcome my ordeal reversed my view.  

After complications during her seventh month of pregnancy, Ibtisam delivered a baby boy via emergency Caesarean section at a UNFPA-supported hospital. With help from a lawyer provided by the safe space, she was granted a divorce and monthly child support. When her father lost his job as a teacher, she became head of the household as the only person in the family, including other siblings, earning an income. 

According to a 2011 World Health Organization multi-country survey, between 1 and 28 per cent of pregnant women report experiencing physical intimate partner violence, with the majority reporting rates of 4 and 12 per cent. 

*Name changed for privacy and protection


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