Yemen investigating death of 8-year-old child bride

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.

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.

But rights activist Ahmed al-Quraishi, chairman of child rights' organisation 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 told AFP.

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 married to the man who took her to a hotel, and that she died on the very first night 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 discovered 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 UN 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".

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15, and 52 percent are married before 18, according to Yemeni and UN 2006 data.