Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Child Bride Who Got Away

Here's a sort of bookend to the story of Aisha that had me riled up yesterday. Today I read a BBC news report by Rachid Sekkai on an eight-year-old girl in Yemen who has gotten her marriage annulled. Alleging that her twentysomething husband beat her, the girl, Nojoud Mohammed Ali, took a taxi on her own to a judge's office, sued for annulment - and won.

The BBC said the husband denied beating her but admitted to having consummated the marriage, apparently in defiance of Yemeni custom and maybe in violation of the law (though the report is unclear on the latter point):
Although it has no legal minimum age for marriage, the wife is only allowed to live with her husband once she has reached puberty.
(Source: BBC News)
Ain't no way an eight-year-old is that developed, especially in a poor country! Nojoud had consented to the marriage, but not to the way things actually went down:
Nojoud told the court she had signed the marriage contract two-and-a-half months ago on the understanding she would stay in her parents' house until she was 18.

"But a week after signing, my mother and father forced me to go and live with him." ...

Her father, Mohammad Ali Al-Ahdal told the court he felt obliged to marry off his daughter after receiving repeated threats from the would-be husband and his entourage.

He said was frightened because his oldest daughter had been kidnapped several years earlier and had been forced to marry her abductor.
(Source: BBC News)
Of course, we don't know how truthful her father is being. If the family is poor enough, the prospect of one less mouth to feed might make marriage look like a bargain for everyone but the young girl. But presumably he told a story that was at least plausible. And if the rule of law is that weak in Yemen, it's hard to imagine the human rights situation improving markedly - neither for girls nor for anyone else.

Note, too, the horrific notion of female purity and family honor that forced Nojoud's older sister to marry a man who was her kidnapper. And that's not all. Since honor was at stake, that man presumably also raped her. Even if he didn't actually do it, that's what the men of her family assumed. Otherwise, he wouldn't have had to marry her.

But there's some cause for hope. Nojoud found a lawyer eager to take on her case. She landed a sympathetic judge. Her uncle was willing to take her in and protect her. And she's now back in school. Primary school. Like the eight-year-old girls in my son's second-grade class.

Photos of Yemeni girls by Flickr user Richard Messenger, used under a Creative Commons license. Presumably they aren't child brides.


Smirking Cat said...

The disdain for women and girls worldwide makes me so angry and sad. Female as property is a hateful notion that doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Sungold said...

It's only marginally better, though, in the FLDS sect in the western part of our country. I wish I could say other countries have a monopoly on seeing women and girls as property. Sadly, it ain't so.

Sugarmag said...

What an inspiring story, though. First of all, that she took a taxi to the courthouse, you go girl! Makes me think also that her parents or someone must have done something right that she would think to do that, and then that a lawyer and judge and her uncle would help her. That is actually kind of exciting and inspiring. She is only a year older than my daughter.

Sungold said...

Yeah, her story is depressing and inspiring in about equal measure - depressing, because there are still so many other girls who are in similar straits but not finding a way out. The judge is the most surprising element, I think; the lawyer was basically lying in wait for a situation like this to come along as a test case.

She's exactly the same age as my Bear. I think of the little girls he's friends with (the girls adore him) and feel ill at the thought of any one of them being used like this.