This month I got married! The journey to our big day seemed so long although it was only 9 months. The anticipation was a wonderful thing. The emotion we experienced on our wedding day was like no other. In all we truly feel like two of the luckiest people on the planet. Yet there are so many young girls and women out there whose wedding stories are nothing like mine.
According to the Home Office, the UK Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice and support relating to a possible forced marriage in almost 1500 cases in 2012. 35% of these involved victims below 18 years of age. The youngest was 2 years old. The victims were predominantly female (82%). The cases involved over 60 different countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh making up almost 60% of cases. However, some believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, many more cases go unreported.
If this is happening on my doorstep I had to wonder about the source of such a custom. And this is what I found; an 11-year old girl speaking so passionately, so animatedly and with so much conviction about her own escape from child marriage that I was compelled to find out more about the custom in her home country in the Middle East, Yemen.
“You have killed our dreams. You have killed everything inside us.” says Nada Al-Ahdal, 11 years old, Yemen.
Nada Al-Ahdal speaks of her escape, she says she would rather die than be forced into marriage. She humbly admits that many children are in a worse situation than she, as they cannot extricate themselves. She speaks of children throwing themselves into the sea, of her maternal aunt burning herself alive, to escape unhappy marriages.
She is not the first Yemeni girl to come to the media’s attention, back in 2008, 9-year old Nujood Ali sought and was granted a divorce 2 months into a forced and paid-for marriage littered with sexual and physical abuse. Nujood went on to write a bestselling book entitled “I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced”, which was supposed to fund her education as well as bringing hope to thousands of Yemeni girls in the same situation. 5 years on, and Nujood has spoken out in international media about how her father has used the money from her book to marry again and again, as well as selling her younger sister into marriage to a man twice her age. Nujood will try to stand in the way of letting the same thing happen to her sister.
Under Yemeni law there is no minimum age to get married. Nujood’s ex-husband promised not to enter into sexual relations with her until 1 year after her first period, this constitutes part of Yemeni law which states that a girl must be ‘mature’ before entering into relations with her husband. However, this is rarely adhered to.
According to the International Center for Research on Women 48.4% on women are married under the age of 18. Although Yemen itself has no national law making this illegal, they have signed The Convention on the Rights of the Child which would make these brides ‘under age’. There is a proposed law for a new minimum age, however the religious opposition to such a law is strong. You can read more about it here.
In light of all these politics I wonder if there will be a happy ending for Nada Al-Ahdal, for Nujood Ali, or for the thousands of girls who find themselves in forced marriages or about to enter into one.
I will leave you with a thought; Yemen ranks 14th out of countries with the highest rates of child marriage. Niger ranks number 1 with 76.6% of women married under the age of 18.