Yemen has a population estimated at 30 million, of which more than 99% is Muslim. The majority of Yemeni Muslims belong to either the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam, with a significant plurality of an estimated 35-40% that belong to the Zaydi sect, a distinct form of Shia Islamhttps://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/YEMEN-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdfhttps://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2009/10/Shiarange.pdf.
Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices in Yemen
Main Laws that Govern Muslim Marriages
The Yemeni Personal Status Law, No. 20 of 1991 (YPSL), is the main law that governs matters of marriage and family relations of the predominantly Muslim population of Yemen.Yemen State Party Report to CEDAW, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/YEM /7-8 (2014), para. 16.1 http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/cedaw/pages/cedawindex.aspx The YPSL outlines extensive provisions that govern marriage, divorce, financial maintenance, custody of children, and inheritances. The YPSL specifies that for relevant matters not covered in the law, the strongest evidence in Shariah shall govern, without specifying a particular school of jurisprudence.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Article 349, https://www.mohamah.net/law/نصوص-و-مواد-قانون-الاحوال-الشخصية-اليم/
Equality in Marriage
The YPSL provides for a marital framework based on ‘reciprocal’ or ‘complementary’ rights (as opposed to ‘equal’ rights) between the two spouses, whereby in return for maintenance and protection from her husband, a wife is expected to obey the husband.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Articles 6, 40, 41, 152.
Minimum Age of Marriage
There is no minimum age of marriage. The YPSL permits contracting marriage of a minor, subject only to the requirement that consummation of a marriage occurs upon a girl reaching 15 years of age or having the physical ability to consummate a marriage.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Article 15.
Equal Rights to Divorce
Women do not have equal rights to divorce. A husband may unilaterally divorce his wife without reason, through verbally pronouncing the divorce declaration, whereas a woman may only obtain a divorce by resorting to court.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Articles 58-59. A husband may delegate his unilateral right to divorce to his wife (isma) through a stipulation in the marriage contract,Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Article 60 thus permitting her to pronounce divorce upon herself.
A wife may seek judicial divorce by petitioning a court, for certain enumerated grounds. Valid grounds for seeking judicial divorce a husband’s serious disease, refusal to financially support his family, absence for more than six months, addiction to alcohol or drugs, converting to a different religion, or marrying multiples wives without treating them equally. A woman may also obtain judicial divorce for the reason of contempt of her husband, but only if the couple first undergoes a mediation process. If the mediation process fails, the wife must return the marriage dower (mahr) to the husband in order to obtain a divorce.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Articles 46-55.
A woman may seek redemptive divorce (khul’) by paying back the dower (mahr) back to the husband and forgoing all her financial rights. A khul’ divorce requires the agreement of the husband, and there is no provision in the law to authorize a judge to rule for khul’ without the husband’s consent.Yemeni Personal Status Law (1992), as amended, Article 72-74.
Positive Feature(s) Under Muslim Family Law
A woman may enter conditions in the marriage contract by mutual consent to secure additional rights not stipulated by the law, such as the right to divorce herself, the right to pursue an education or employment outside the home, or the right to prevent her husband from practicing polygamy.
Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters
The Judicial Authority Law of 1991 organizes the courts in Yemen into courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and a High Court. Personal status matters are adjudicated by the civil courts of first instance and courts of appeal, with the Personal Status Chambers of the High Court serving as the highest appeals courts in personal status matters.
However, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has led to the disintegration of government control over different Yemeni regions, with many areas falling under the control of armed militias, such as the Houthis, or warring tribal or armed factions. The courts in several regions have ceased to operate, and the Houthi militias have established a separate judiciary system that applies significantly more restrictive Shariah interpretations that limit the rights of women.
Constitutional Provisions and National Legislation
The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen provides that Shariah is the source of all legislation.Constitution of the Republic of Yemen (1991), as amended, Article 3, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Yemen_2015.pdf?lang=en The Constitution also includes several articles that guarantee the equality of all citizens, and in particular the equality between women and men before the law.
Article 24 of the Constitution guarantees equal opportunities for all citizens in the fields of political, economic, social and cultural activities, Article 25 declares that Yemeni society is based on social solidarity, which in turn is based on justice, freedom and equality according to the law, and Article 41 provides that every Yemeni is equal in rights and duties.Constitution of the Republic of Yemen (1991), as amended, Article 24
Article 31 of the Constitution states that women as sisters of men, and they have rights and duties, which are guaranteed and assigned by Shariah and stipulated by law.Constitution of the Republic of Yemen (1991), as amended, Article 31
Other National Laws
Currently, there is no general legislation addressing gender-based violence. The Penal Code, No. 12 of 1994, contains some general prohibitions and penalties that are applicable to acts of domestic violence, including murder, kidnapping, assault and battery as well as rape and sexual assault.Yemeni Penal Code (1994), as amended, Articles 233-238, 241-245, 246-252, 269, 273-276, https://yemen-nic.info/db/laws_ye/detail.php?ID=11424 Marital rape, however, is not specifically criminalized. Rather, YPSL article 40(2) requires a woman to provide sex to her husband, creating a significant legal gap for marital rape.
The Penal Code also provides for a mitigated punishment for so-called honour killings. If a man is convicted of killing or seriously harming his wife upon finding her in a compromising position of adultery, he may only receive a lenient sentence of one year or a fine.Yemeni Penal Code (1994), as amended, Article 232
Regional or International Human Rights Principles
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Yemen acceded to CEDAW on 30 May 1984. It has taken a reservation to Article 29, Paragraph 1, relating to the settlement of disputes which may arise concerning the application or interpretation of the Convention.
The last CEDAW review of Yemen has taken place during the 80th CEDAW session in October-November 2021.
Links to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practices
- Shadow Report of the Yemeni NGOs CEDAW Coalition on the Implementation of CEDAW in Yemen, 4 October 2020
- Report of the Civil Alliance for Rights and Feminism ( CARF) in Yemen on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), October 2020.
Links to concluding observations that refer to reform of Muslim family laws and practices
Link to Musawah’s CEDAW reports on Yemen
Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Yemen
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified on 1 May 1991.
Sustainable Development Goals
- Yemen has signed on to the Sustainable Development Goals. For information on Yemen’s efforts to achieve the SGD and status monitoring, see https://dashboards.sdgindex.org/profiles/yemen-rep/indicators.
Key Resources About Muslim Family Law
By local researchers, activists and civil society groups
- Anne K. Bang, Unfulfilled hopes. The quest for a minimum marriage age in Yemen, 2009–2014, CMI Report, 2016.
- Obligating Obedience: Violations of Women’s Rights in Yemen, Human Rights Watch, 2015.
- Douaa Hussein, “Legal Reform as a Way to Women’s Rights: The Case of Personal Status Law in Yemen,” OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 21-46, 2012
By international bodies
- Gender Equality in Yemen, UNDP
- Yemen, Human Development Report 2020, UNDP, Country Insights | Human Development Reports. Yemen, Social Institutions and Gender Index, OECD Development Center, 2019.
- Yemen Country Brief: UNICEF Regional Study on Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa, UNICEF and ICRW, 2017.
National Groups and Campaigns Working on Muslim Family Law
Organizations that work on women’s rights issues include:
- Center of Strategic Studies to Support Women and Children
- Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
- Yemen Observatory for Human Rights
- Yemen Women’s Union
- Women Solidarity Network
- Yemeni Feminist Movement
A more comprehensive listing of Yemeni civil society and women and human rights organizations is available at http://www.csfyemen.org.
Yemeni Personal Status Law was codified
Extensive amendments of the Yemeni Personal Status Law
Amendment removing the absolute minimum marriage age (previously 15 for boys and girls) and instead only requiring that consummation of a marriage of a female child must not occur before she reaches 15 years of age or is determined to be physically capable
Amendment detailing the physical conditions and diseases that may be grounds for granting a judicial divorce
This country page was prepared by Salma Waheedi, attorney and legal researcher, as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws.