‘Exchange Marriages’ in Yemen: A Ticking Time Bomb

‘Exchange Marriages’ in Yemen: A Ticking Time Bomb

Friday, 16 February, 2018 - 08:30
Sanaa - Aseel Sariya
Twenty two years ago Fatima was forced to marry a man at the age of 19 in return for her brother to wed the groom’s sister in what is called al-Shighar or exchange marriage.

Fatima did not have a say in the decision made by her father and brother to marry her off in the Rayma Governorate. Despite that, she lived a normal life with her husband and five children.

“We had no problems and I was happy seeing my children grow up,” says Fatima of her exchange marriage, which starts off with two men agreeing on marrying off their daughter or sister without dowry.

Her life turned upside down five years ago when her husband abandoned her and took her children – three boys and two girls – with him as an act of vengeance following the divorce of her brother from her sister-in-law.

But she didn’t give up. “I filed a lawsuit against my husband to ask him for divorce and return my children to me.”

Fatima belongs to a large group of Yemeni women who are pushed into exchange marriages, depriving them of education, dowry and their children.

A survey carried out in five of Yemen’s 22 governorates, showed that 94 percent of al-Shighar marriages end in failure. The survey included 38 men and 12 women.

According to the survey, which was done between May and November 2017, such marriages last an average of four and a half years.

On the outskirts of the northern Hajjah governorate, 19-year-old Aisha was forced to marry her blind cousin in return for a marriage that took place between her brother and her husband’s sister.

Aisha’s marriage destroyed her emotionally. She saw her 26-year-old husband as a “monster and not a life partner” on her wedding night.

“I contemplated suicide but I backed off,” she says.

Although her brother divorced, she’s still stuck in an unhappy marriage. “But my child makes me somehow happy,” says Aisha.

There are thousands of similar cases in Yemen and some people have managed to carry out two or more exchange marriages despite the difficulties.

But its mainly the economic hardships that push many to resort to such tribal traditions.

Lawyer Hamid al-Hujaily described such marriages as a “ticking time bomb” that destroys happy families.

Sociologist Dr. Abdul Karim Ghanim also said that al-Shighar is like bartering of goods, except that goods are replaced by women.

“What’s worse is that the success of one marriage hinges on the other,” he said. “Divorce leads to the disintegration of the family and creates instability for children.”

Several Yemeni non-governmental organizations have long attempted to end al-Shighar. But they hit the stumbling block of a stubborn society, which holds onto traditions.

Lawyer Hamid al-Hujaily regrets that Yemeni law does not prohibit exchange marriages. He has called for adding clauses to the personal status law to stop al-Shighar and impose penalties on those who violate it.

He also called for adding clauses that prevent the divorce of a couple in case the other couple’s exchange marriage collapses.

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