Yemeni girl, 12, dies in painful childbirth

The recent death of a 12-year-old Yemeni girl during childbirth spotlights the widespread problem of child marriage in Yemen, a representative of the United Nations Children's Fund told CNN Monday.

"When they're pushed into marriage, they are pushed into early pregnancy," UNICEF spokesman Nassem ur-Rehman said by phone from Yemen. "And then, in a system and environment where the health facilities (are) so poor ... this is a recipe for disaster.

"It's like pushing our children into the trap of death, knowing(ly)."

Fawziya Ammodi struggled for three days in labor before dying of severe bleeding at a hospital on Friday, said the Seyaj Organization for the Protection of Children. Her baby also died in childbirth, according to the children's rights group.

"Although the cause of her death was lack of medical care, the real case was the lack of education in Yemen and the fact that child marriages keep happening," said Seyaj President Ahmed al-Qureshi.

Born into an impoverished family in Hodeidah, Fawziya was forced to drop out of school and married off to a 24-year-old man last year, al-Qureshi said.

Child brides are commonplace in Yemen, especially in the Red Sea Coast where tribal customs hold sway. Hodeidah is the fourth largest city in Yemen and an important port.

More than half of all young Yemeni girls are married off before the age of 18 -- many times to older men, some with more than one wife, a study by Sanaa University found.

"For us in UNICEF, it is the worst form of child abuse," ur-Rehman said, referring to child marriages. "And here, (in) the case of Fawziya, is one child giving birth to another child and in the process she lost her life."

While it was not immediately known why Fawziya's parents married her off, the reasons vary. Sometimes, financially-strapped parents offer up their daughters for hefty dowries.

Marriage means the girls are no longer a financial or moral burden to their parents. And often, parents will extract a promise from the husband to wait until the girl is older to consummate the marriage.

The issue of Yemeni child brides came to the forefront in 2008 with 10-year-old Nujood Ali.

She was pulled out of school and married to a man who beat and raped her within weeks of the ceremony.

To escape, Nujood hailed a taxi -- the first time in her life -- to get across town to the central courthouse where she sat on a bench and demanded to see a judge.

After a well-publicized trial, she was granted a divorce.

The Yemeni parliament tried in February to pass a law, setting the minimum marriage age at 17. But the measure has not reached the president because many parliamentarians argued it violates sharia, or Islamic law, which does not stipulate a minimum age.

UNICEF has been pushing Yemen's parliament to pass legislation banning child marriage which ur-Rehman said is the reason why Yemen has such a high maternal mortality rate.

"There's no accountability for now when a child dies in the process of childbirth and there are so many cases," he said. "The only punishment ... is the one who is suffering silently."