The crisis in Yemen is forcing families to take desperate measures to survive- including marrying off children as young as three, the charity Oxfam has warned.

The warning comes as countries meet in Geneva today to pledge humanitarian aid for the war-torn country.

Oxfam spoke to families in Amran region in the north of the country who have been left hungry and isolated after fleeing their homes.

Some said they had been forced to marry off their daughters. In one case a girl as young as three years old was married off by her father in order to buy food and shelter so that the rest of the family could survive. 

Sagheer, who has 13 children, is jobless and cannot afford basic needs for his family (pic: Sami M Jassar/Oxfam)

Early Marriage

Oxfam says that although early marriage has long been a practice in Yemen, the marrying off of girls at such an early age to buy food is shocking.

But the charity says families are becoming increasingly desperate. It says younger girls are usually spared consummating the marriage until they have reached 11 years old but before that are made to do household work in their husband's home. 

Nine-year-old Hanan* used to go to school but since she was married, she has had to stop.

Hanan said: "My mother in law keeps beating me, and when I run away back to my father's house, my father beats me again for running away. I don't want to be married. I just want to go back to school." 

Hanan's parents, who also married off her three-year-old sister, told Oxfam they knew marrying off their daughters at such a young age was wrong, but felt they had no choice because the dowry paid in return was the only way of keeping the rest of the family alive.


Oxfam's Yemen Country Director Muhsin Siddiquey said: "As this war has gone on, people's means of coping with devastating levels of hunger have become more and more desperate. They're being forced to take steps that blight their children's lives now and for decades to come.

"This is a direct result of a man-made humanitarian catastrophe caused by the conflict. The international community needs to do everything in its power to bring an end to the fighting and ensure people have the food, water and medicine they so desperately need."

Shadi*, 5, lost his leg and needed a prosthetic one. His young sister had to marry in order to get necessary cash for his treatment and to pay the family’s debts (pic: VFX ADEN/Oxfam)

Agreement

The United Nations has been trying to help implement a truce deal which was agreed at peace talks in December between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government.

The first phase of the withdrawal involves forces around the key port of Hudaydah- the Red Sea port used to bring in supplies for Yemen’s 30 million people.

But the withdrawal process has stalled and its not yet clear what the impact will be.

Siddiquey added: "Donors meeting today in Geneva to pledge assistance to Yemen need to make sure there's enough funding to get vital food, water and medicine to meet people's basic needs. But only an end to the conflict can halt the downward spiral that is forcing people to take desperate measures. All warring parties and their backers need to fully commit to a nationwide ceasefire and take concrete steps towards a lasting peace."

UNICEF

UNICEF says up to 80% of children in Yemen are currently in need of humanitarian assistance and two million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished.

Since the conflict escalated in 2015, food prices in Yemen have soared while household incomes have fallen, pushing the costs of basic foods beyond the reach of many.

Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa says: 

"Not enough has changed for children in Yemen since the Stockholm agreement on 13 December 2018. Every day since, eight children have been killed or injured. Most of the children killed were playing outdoors with their friends of were on their way home from school."

This year UNICEF is appealing for $542m to help children in Yemen.

And it has called on all warring parties to end violence there.

Mr Cappelaere added: "As the international community meets in Geneva this week for the high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, UNICEF appeals for unconditional contributions to provide lifesaving assistance to children in Yemen and urges a massive re-investment in Yemen to help Yemeni children have a future. This is the only way that Yemen can stand back on its feet. If not, Yemen will be riddled with violence and its future will hang by a thread, with disastrous consequences for children."

(*Name has been changed to protect identity)