Nearly 14 percent of Yemeni girls were married before the age of 15 and 52 percent before the age of 18.Khaled Abdullah/Reuters/Landov
Yemen is investigating the reported death of an 8-year-old girl from injuries suffered on the first night of her marriage to a man in his 40s, the government said Friday, as European Union foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton called the reports "appalling" and urged Yemen to ban child marriage.
The government has formed a committee "to verify the reports about the death of the girl, named Rawan, after being married to an older man," spokesman Rajeh Badi told AFP.
"The crime is not confirmed yet. The team's job is to verify whether this crime took place or not," he said, adding that police had not reported such an incident.
He said that the commission should complete its investigation by Saturday.
Yemen's human rights minister Hooria Mashour has asked parliament to pass a law setting a minimum age for marriage, she told the BBC on Friday.
Rights activist Ahmed al-Quraishi, chairman of child rights' organization Siyaj, said activists who went to the northwestern Hajjah province had collected information that practically confirms the case, "We in Siyaj are nearly sure of the girl's death, and that authorities are trying to cover up the issue."
He said locals in the town of Meedi told activists that they saw the girl some three weeks ago carrying a mobile phone, and saying that she was to wed to a man in his 40s.
Residents also said that she disappeared shortly afterwards, as did her family, according to Quraishi. Some locals said the girl was taken to a hotel by a man, and that she died on the first night of marriage from bleeding caused by sexual intercourse.
However, a security official in the area told activists investigating the case that the girl and her father were being held by police, without giving any details, Quraishi said. Activists also said that Rawan's father had another daughter, aged 10, who is also married.
On Friday, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the reported death was appalling, and urged Yemen to ban child marriage. She called on Sanaa to "abide by its obligations" under U.N. conventions protecting the rights of the child.
She urged the government to "immediately reinstate legislation setting a minimum age for marriage, in line with international norms, to prohibit such abuse of children." The European Union spends nearly $80 million a year on aid to Yemen.
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 a girl. According to the United Nations, around half of Yemen's 24 million people lack sufficient food and access to safe water.
Under international norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person regardless of their age must give their consent before they can be married.
Human Rights Watch previously urged Yemen's government to ban marriages of girls under the age of 18. It said nearly 14 percent of Yemeni girls were married before the age of 15, and 52 percent before the age of 18. HRW also said many Yemeni child brides-to-be are kept from school when they reach puberty.
Al Jazeera and wire services