Yemen denies child bride death on wedding night

SANAA (AFP) - Yemeni authorities denied on Tuesday the reported death of a child bride on her wedding night, presenting to reporters a girl who claimed she was eight-year-old Rawan and never married.

Last week, the government said it was investigating reports that a child bride had died from injuries suffered on the first night of her marriage to a man in his 40s.

The reports that Rawan, 8, suffered a brutal death triggered an international outcry and a flood of calls demanding that Yemen ban marriages to child brides.

On Saturday, Rights Minister Huriya Mashhoor told AFP she would press for the minimum age for marriage to be raised to 18.

Rawan was said to have died last week from internal bleeding after sexual intercourse, following her marriage to a 40-year-old man in a remote area of the northeastern province of Hajja.

On Tuesday, the head of criminal investigations in Hajja's district of Harad, Muslem al-Ghazzi, presented to reporters a young girl and said: "This is Rawan. She is alive and has never been married." The girl identified herself as Rawan Mohamed Abdo Hattan and repeated that she had never been married.

"Everything that was said (about me) was false. My oldest sister who is 18 was recently married," the girl, a brunette, wearing a dress with short sleeves and a headscarf, said at the Harad meeting with reporters.

A man standing next to her was introduced by the criminal investigation chief as her father.

On the weekend, the governor of Hajja province told official news agency Saba that Rawan was still alive.

Ali al-Qaissi told Saba that "the young girl Rawan Abdo Hattan is still alive and normally lives with her family who, in turn, deny the whole thing".

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that 14 per cent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15, and 52 per cent before 18, citing Yemeni and UN 2006 figures.