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Preteen Divorce in Yemen | Nujood Ali

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 17:33 PM EDT, 4 March 2010

UNITED STATES – Nujood Ali is a ten-year old Yemeni girl who secured a divorce from her husband, a man 20 years her senior who violently raped her soon after their marriage. She recounts in her memoir her father promising her to this man and her mother’s inability to protect her from the abuse she would soon suffer. Typical of many traditional, patriarchal societies, her father was the ultimate arbiter of all decisions pertaining to the females of his household. Even though Nujood’s mother disagreed with the arrangement she was powerless to intervene.

Nujood’s courageous story, “I Am Nujood, Age 10 Divorced,” was just published in the United States this week. Her ordeal as chronicled in the book began when she was in the 2nd grade, before she had even had her first menstrual cycle. Though her father remained unswayed by her protestations, he did request her future husband to abstain from sexual contact with Nujood until after her first menstruation. On the day of her wedding, this small, scared girl remained curled up in a corner crying, and that night her husband raped her for the first time.

As a woman whose parents received the offer of several cows to become the nubile bride of an octogenarian, and who was violently raped as a teenager; Nujood’s story evokes a visceral response in me.  Whereas I was able to avoid her matrimonial fate through the strong protestations of my mother, it was achieved at the cost of subsequent physical abuse from my father who felt defied and humiliated at his inability to “control his women.”

Nujood’s nuptial night rape was the beginning of a horrible cycle of abuse from both her husband and mother-in-law who encouraged her son to beat Nujood. Though only in elementary school her husband forced to drop out since education for women is not valued nor encouraged. Her life of enforced servitude and childbearing was antithetical to the independence education would have afforded her. Statistically, an educated woman will desire to improve her situation and that of her offspring, which often clashes with the rigid structure of a society where a woman’s opinions and thoughts carry no weight.

This is what makes Nujood’s story so remarkable, she was born and raised within this framework and was yet a child without the benefit of outside references, who had the presence of mind to escape from her husband’s house and go to a local court where she bravely asked to speak to a judge. When she finally found one who would listen to her, she proclaimed with boldness,  “I want a divorce!”

Thus began a journey that would inspire other girls trapped in similarly abusive arranged marriages to petition the courts for annulments and divorces. It does not appear that Nujood knew the full import of her decision that day, nor the potential danger she faced from her family, particularly her father and brothers who could have easily murdered her, in all probability without retribution, through the practice of ‘Honor Killing.‘  Thankfully, this was not the case and now Nujood can live her life in a manner prescribed and determined by her in large part due to the success of her book and the income that it generates.

Nujood Ali’s memoir was No. 1 for five weeks in France and is currently being published in 18 other languages including Arabic.  I highly recommend this book and encourage you to explore this issue further through the links below.

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Editor: @ayannanahmias

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About Ayanna Nahmias

Ayanna Nahmias was interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide program titled 'The State We’re In,' about her life in Africa and her determination to transcend her past. She started the Nahmias Cipher Report to provide information to readers about life in emerging economies, and to provide alternative insight into the challenges faced by women and children living in these countries. The blog features stories from around the world to inspire other people to persevere and triumph in the face of great adversity. She blogs about current events in emerging economies, international politics, human rights abuses, women’s rights and child advocacy.

View all posts by Ayanna Nahmias

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