As Yemen teeters on the brink of famine and war ravages the country, UNICEF warned on Monday, children are left paying the heaviest price.
More than two thirds of young girls are married off before the age of 18, compared to half before the conflict escalated two years ago, the report found.
As poverty skyrockets and resources become depleted, families are resorting to marrying off their daughters. They believe that doing so will either reduce costs or offer their daughters better protection with the husband’s family.
“One of the first casualties when families are displaced and lose their incomes is girls,” UNICEF’s spokesman in Yemen, Rajat Madhok, told Reuters.
Yemen has long been one of the few countries in the region with no legal minimum age of marriage. But now with around 80% of families in debt and half the population living off of less than $2 a day, more and more young girls are facing early marriage.
For families struggling to survive, dowry payments — traditionally paid by the husband’s family— help alleviate conflict-related hardships.
Gender-based violence, UNICEF added, has increased by over 63%.
Young girls forced into marriage face the risk of death from rape injuries and childbirth complications. As their bodies are not yet fully developed, these complications are the second cause of death among young girls globally.
For one young girl, Bilkis, child marriage became a reality at the age of 13 when she was forced to marry as the conflict intensified.
“I was a child who was not mentally and physically able to be a wife,” she painfully recalled. “I was warned not to do anything that children do. Through the window, I could watch other children play.”
Aid agencies have warned that the famine in Yemen is now at “the point of no return.”
The violence broke out in 2015 when the Houthi rebel movement refused to recognize Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi as Yemen’s succeeding president.
Years of fighting along the Red Sea coast has caused damage to Al Hudaydah — Yemen’s largest port — disrupting imports that account for 90% of Yemen’s regular food supply.
An estimated 17 million people are at ‘emergency’ or ‘crisis’ levels of food insecurity. Another 6.8 million are only steps away from slipping into famine, according to a recent UN report.
Yemen’s health and education systems are also on the verge of collapse.
Read More: Education is life for Yemeni children
Thousands of children have dropped out of school, many young boys are being recruited for war, and 2.2 million children suffer from malnourishment.
Yemen’s children are in dire need of humanitarian aid. To do nothing is to ignore an entire generation.
“The war in Yemen continues to claim children’s lives and their future,” said Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. “Relentless fighting and destruction has scarred children for life.”
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