The horrific report of an 8-year-old girl who died of internal injuries on her wedding night in Yemen after an arranged marriage to a middle-aged man is being flatly denied by local officials, Gulf News reports, but the journalist who broke the story says the officials are trying to cover up the tragedy.

The report has brought international attention and condemnation to the country, particularly on social media forums. Gulf News reported that bloggers have referred to the unidentified groom as “an animal who deserve[s] to be punished severely for his crime,” and many are equally disgusted with the parents of the girl, who has been identified only as “Rawan.”

Officials Deny 8 Year Old Girl Died on Wedding Night in Yemen After Arranged Marriage

Yemenis walk past Bab Al-Yemen (Gate of Yemen), entrance to Sanaa’s old city on January 12, 2010. (Getty Images)

But as the story gets more international attention, local officials are claiming that not only did the girl not die — no such wedding even happened.

Via Gulf News:

Mosleh Al Azzani, the director of Criminal Investigation in Harradh district where the marriage was thought to have taken place, told Gulf News via telephone that he personally sent for the girl and her father to question them about the incident. The girl’s name is Rawan.

“When I heard the rumours, I called the girl’s father. He came with his daughter and denied the marriage and death of his daughter. I have the photos of the girl and will show it to anyone.”

The official said that the girl was eight years old and her father was in his late 40s.

“The man moved to Haradh 20 days ago. He is a father of Rawan, another married daughter and a son. I am ready to call them again if any journalist wants to investigate this issue.” he said, adding that he did not receive any information from the local hospital about the death of the girl.

Also in Hajja, Aziz Saleh, a journalist who runs a local website, said that he contacted the local authority’s office who denied the news.

“All of them maintained that neither the marriage nor death had taken place,” he said. [Emphasis added]

But Mohammad Radman, the freelance journalist from the Yemeni province who broke the story, insists the girl’s neighbors told him she was “dead and buried.”

“They are willing to give their testimony on this issue,” he told Gulf News, adding: “I think the officials are trying to bury the story.”

At this point, it is unclear what exactly happened to “Rawan.”  She may have never existed — Ahmad Al Qurishi, the head of SEYAJ Organisation for Childhood Protection said that sometimes “people create these stories to get publicity and attention and aid from international organizations” — but the integrity and investigative prowess of the local Yemeni authorities is far from dependable.

Officials Deny 8 Year Old Girl Died on Wedding Night in Yemen After Arranged Marriage

Subject not pictured. A Yemeni girl wears a traditional outfit during a birth ceremony known as ‘Welad’ in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP)

Azzani, who allegedly spoke with the girl and her father, could be lying, or the girl’s family could have brought another young girl to his office to quell suspicions, wanting to avoid a criminal inquiry. The fact that there is not a record at the hospital also means little, since she may never have been taken to the hospital.

Whatever the case, it does not mean that the practice of marrying off young girls to older men is not a widespread issue in much of the world.

In Yemen, a 2009 law set the minimum age of marriage at 17, but was soon repealed after conservative lawmakers said it was “un-Islamic,” according to Al Bawaba. Parents can now sell off their girls at any age, though the men are theoretically supposed to wait until the girls hit puberty before having sexual intercourse.

An 11-year-old Yemeni girl, Nada Al-Ahdal, recently made international news after fleeing her parents’ home when faced with an arranged marriage. In a video she made, the girl asked “what have the children done wrong?” to deserve such a fate. She cited the story of her aunt, who was put in a similar situation at age 14. After a year of beatings, sometimes with metal chains, Nada said she “poured gasoline over herself and set herself on fire.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that between 2011 and 2020, roughly 140 million girls will become child brides.

Other Must-Read Stories: