Yemen's Swap Marriages Leading to Disasters

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Yemen's Swap Marriages Leading to Disasters
Sat 03-11-2012

News and reports regarding the swap marriages in Yemen are becoming more popular. What are swap marriages about? Its simple: "I marry your sister and you marry mine. No dowry necessary. But if one marriage fails, the other must end as well."

In a country where child marriages remain customary, swap marriage is also rife, particularly in rural areas of the Arabian Peninsula nation, despite the often destructive consequences of the practice.

Muslim scholars have ruled that Sheghar or swap marriage is not Islamic, but many in Yemen’s conservative society believe that it cements family ties, and keeps the inheritance within the family as most swaps take place between relatives.

Ahmed Abdullah, 70, described swap marriage as a "marriage of regret" as he painfully narrated the story of his son who could not cope with losing his wife over his sister’s divorce.

"I agreed with my dearest friend to arrange a marriage for our 2 sons in this way ... After 2 years, my daughter and her husband could not get on well,which led to her returning to her parents’ home."

"The moment she returned, my son’s wife left his house. The problem is that he really loved her," he said, adding that eventually both couples were forced to divorce.

"My son lost his mind because of the pressure we put on him to divorce his wife," he said.

Ali and Nasser married each other’s sisters. After several years, Ali divorced his wife. But when his sister refused to leave Nasser, her family and cousins stormed her house and forced Nasser to divorce her.

The dispute led to armed clashes between the 2 families which resulted in the death of Nasser’s brother-in law.

University graduate Mohammed Saeed said that although he was fully aware of the dangers of swap marriages, he was forced into one by his family so that his older sister could be married.

"I suffered endless problems for 7 years, and so did my sister. When I couldn't bear it any longer I divorced my wife. She took my son and daughter with her. I haven’t seen them in 4 years," he said.

Sociologist Amani Maysari argues that the spread of Sheghar marriage is because of "exaggerated dowries." "Increased poverty, as well as the rise in marriage costs, force some families into swap marriages," she said.

Human rights minister Huriya Mashhour agreed that high dowries were a main motive behind swap marriages, pointing out that families see it as a "solution for those who cannot afford the cost of marriage.”

Islamic jurist Mohammed al-Omrani said that Sheghar marriage does not abide by the rules of Islam. "When a wife can be divorced only because the other woman got divorced ... This means this marriage is haram (prohibited)," he said.