Poverty Gives Momentum to Slavery in Yemen

Sheba Intelligence | 2023-08-23 01:04 AM UTC


Ibtihaj bid her parents farewell in July this year and moved to live with another family she did not even know. She is just eight years old, but her father decided to hand her over to another household in Sanaa, a document obtained by Sheba Intelligence has shown. 

Ibtihaj's father's name is Ghaleb Abdu Salah, and the person who accepted to take the child is named Taher Ahmed Al-Gharbani. The document said the latter will be responsible for "taking care of her and raising her until she reaches the age of marriage."

Ibtihaj's father, mother, brothers, and uncles will have no right to intervene in her personal life in the coming years. According to the signed agreement, Al-Gharbani will be the only one with the final say on Ibtihaj's personal life. He is the owner, and Ibtihaj will be treated as enslaved.  

Slavery has not vanished in Yemen despite the country's law that criminalizes the slavery of humans. Article (248) of the Crimes and Penalties Law stipulated the following: (A penalty of imprisonment not exceeding ten years shall be imposed on: (1) Whoever buys, sells, gives a gift, or disposes in any way whatsoever of a person. (2) Whoever Bring a person into or export from the country with the intention of disposing of him."

In 2017, an investigation revealed that hundreds of people in Hajja, particularly in Abs and Aslam districts, continued to be treated as slaves. They have no right to decide on anything without the permission of their masters. Before the war, slavery used to exist in some districts in Yemen. However, the miserable economic conditions of millions of families have given momentum to slavery in several Yemeni areas. Ibtihaj's story is an example. 

It has been nine years since the country slid into a civil war, causing millions of families to lose their sources of income. The UN estimates that 21.6 million people, roughly three-quarters of the population, will require humanitarian assistance and protection support in 2023. 

The deepening poverty has hurt millions of people and children, particularly girls who are subjected to early marriage. Though early marriage has been common even before the breakout of the conflict, this phenomenon has magnified throughout wartime. 

In December 2017, UNICEF reported that over two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18, compared to 50 percent during the pre-wartime. The rise of early marriage cases is linked to the country's deteriorating economy and faulty traditions and customs. 

Late last year, according to an independent Yemeni media platform, a Yemeni girl got married at 11 years old. The girl was quoted as saying, "I got married when I was eleven years old because of the debts that my father had to settle. My father works in fishing, but his meager income did not suffice the seven family members and me." 

The man who lent her father cash insisted on getting his money. Her father was broke and couldn't return the man's money. The father suggested marrying off his daughter to that man, and the marriage happened. 

Ibtihaj's story is just a picture of the profound ordeal that the war has created. Today, Ibtihaj is at the mercy of a man who will control her life for several years and is like a property possessed by her master.