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An eight-year-old Yemeni girl has died of internal bleeding on her wedding night after marrying a man five times her age, a social activist and two local residents said, in a case that has caused an outcry in the media and revived debate about child brides.
Arwa Othman, head of Yemen's House of Folklore and a leading rights campaigner, said the girl, identified only as Rawan, was married to a year-old late last week in the town of Meedi in Hajjah province, north-western Yemen.
A security official in the provincial town of Haradh denied any such incident had taken place. He did not want to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the press. But two Meedi residents contacted by Reuters confirmed the incident and said tribal chiefs had tried to cover up the incident when the news broke, warning a local journalist against covering the story. Many poor families in Yemen marry off young daughters to save on the costs of bringing up a child and earn extra money from the dowry given to the girl.
A UN report released in January revealed the extent of the country's poverty, saying that Human Rights Watch HRW urged Yemen in December to ban marriages of girls under 18, warning it deprived child brides of education and harmed their health. The group said many Yemeni child brides-to-be are kept from school when they reach puberty. Discussions on the issue were shelved by political turmoil after protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in that led to his ouster.
Several of the 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in west Africa's Sahel and Sahara belt. The practice made headlines in Nigeria in July when lawmakers attempted to scrap a constitutional clause that states citizenship can be renounced by anyone over 18 or a married woman.