30 VOLUME 80, NUMBERS 3 & 4These three factors represent the major components emphasized in the United Nations'definition of reproductive health. They influence a woman's informed ability to engage insexual relationships, her ability to make effective, acceptable, and affordable choicesregarding the use of contraceptives, and her access to safe and appropriate healthcare serv-ices during pregnancy." In other words, a woman's reproductive health can be explained bythe extent of control she possesses over decisions regarding age at marriage, timing of sex-ual unions, pace of childbearing, access to contraceptives, as well as access to informationconcerning childbirth and the prevention and treatment of reproductive related illness.'^
Since the unification ofYemenin 1990, several structural reforms and policy changeshave been introduced to control that country's population growth. One ofthe major achieve-ments in this area has been the adoption of a national policy on population control. TheNational Committee for Population and Family Planning tried to reduce Yemen's death rateby at least fifty percent by 2000, reduce its total fertility rate by six births per woman overthe same period, decrease infant mortality by six deaths per 1,000 live births, and lowermaternal mortality by fifty percent from its 1991 level. Yemen is still in the early stages ofdemographic transition. Its annual population growth currently stands at 3.3 percent. Thecurrent fertility rate of Yemen is about 7.0. This reflects a high birthrate, forty-four per 1,000population, and a declining mortality rate, eleven per 1,000 population. Yemen's infant mor-tality rate, however, still ranks as one of the highest in the world (seventy-five deaths per1,000 live births). This includes an under age five mortality rate of eighty-five percentrecorded within the last decade.'^ From the late 1980s through the late 1990s, Yemen expe-rienced a high maternal mortality ratio of 351 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.'"While this number seems low, maternal deaths represent about forty-two percent of alldeaths for Yemeni women between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine. Lastly, by 2002 theaverage life expectancy for the population of Yemen stood at fifty-nine (fifty-seven for malesand sixty-one for females, respectively). This represents a fourteen year increase since 1990but it remains four years below the average for less developed countries."Based on key social and economic indicators (notably, GNP, exports,
Yemen ranksamong the twenty-five poorest and least developed countries in the world."" According tothe latest Human Development Report, Yemen is ranked 144 out of 173 in the HumanDevelopment Index." Recent national surveys indicate that nearly three-fourths ofthe pop-ulation live in rural areas. This has a significant impact on the character of Yemen society.Marked differences are observed in educational levels between men and women, with thehighest gender gap occurring in enrollment rates (thirty-one percent).'* Furthermore, whilenearly ninety percent of urban households have electricity, only thirty percent of ruralhouseholds are electrified. Approximately forty-eight percent ofthe population is youngerthan fifteen years ofage, and unemployment has reached thirty percent."
AGE AT MARRIAGE:
Marriage has been universal in Yemen; few men and womenremain single throughout their lives. Children born outside of marriage are not common,and about forty percent of marriages are consanguineous.^" Although the minimum age ofmarriage is set at fifteen by law, girls in Yemen marry as young as twelve. Recent estimates,however, show that there has been a slight delay in first marriages in Yemen.^' As in the caseof other traditional societies in the Middle East, the reasons for young age at marriage inYemen are deeply rooted in the social and cultural characteristics of that society.