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Divorced at 10 Years Old

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A beggar told Nujood Ali that to find justice, she must go to court. That beggar was her father’s second wife, and because of her, Nujood is the child she is supposed to be today. Retold by Annisa Beta.

Nujood (middle) with her siblings, whom she is supporting with book royalties. Picture courtesy of Katia Jarjoura.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Released in March this year, this is a first-person narrative of Nujood’s story, ghostwritten by award-winning French journalist, Delphine Minoui.

‘I want a divorce,’ said Nujood Ali, after waiting for hours in a courtroom in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. It was lunch break and Judge Mohammed al-Ghada noticed her sitting alone. He was horrified to learn that Nujood was only 10 years old.

Nujood Ali is a native of Yemen, a country where, in some areas, the average marriage age for females is reportedly 10. Girls like Nujood are commonly married off to men who are two to four times their age, some of whom are already married in the first place. The United Nations reports that almost half of Yemen’s population of 20 million get by on under US$2 per day. Hence, marrying daughters off prematurely is the knee-jerk reaction in a convoluted attempt to improve the welfare of the rest of the family. Nujood was married off to Faez Ali Thamer, a courier in his 30s, in February 2008. It was apparently a slew of unfortunate events at home that caused her father, Ali Mohammed Ahdal, a former street sweeper, to marry Nujood off. Not only was he broke with 16 hungry children at home, but one of Nujood’s sisters had also been raped and another was kidnapped. He feared that Nujood would be next. At that time, Faez promised the family not to touch Nujood until she reached puberty. But the promise was quickly broken as Nujood spent each night struggling, and failing, to escape his predatory advances.

The first time Nujood saw her future husband was when they took their wedding vows. He gave her three dresses, two hairbrushes, perfume and two hijabs as wedding gifts, and also a US$20 wedding ring.

Nujood’s family appreciated the generosity, but it turned out to signal the arrival of Nujood’s nightmares. Faez took back the wedding ring immediately after the wedding party and sold it to buy himself new clothes. She was also constantly abused by her in-laws, who told him to hit her even harder every time he beat her.

Two months after the wedding Nujood was allowed to visit her family. Back home, she asked her parents to end her marriage but her pleas were rejected. Nujood, however, didn’t stop trying to get her freedom: using the bread money from her mother, she travelled to Sana’a. Arriving in the capital, she went straight to the courthouse.

She knew that the courthouse was the only place she could go to get help. She had seen one on television and her father’s other wife had told her that this was the place to get justice. Having obtained the judge’s attention during the lunchtime lull, Nujood voiced her request. Her story moved Shada Nasser, a Yemeni human rights and defence lawyer wellknown for representing women in court. She was also the first person to establish an all-woman practice in Yemen.

In Yemen, marrying daughters off prematurely is a knee-jerk reaction in a convoluted attempt to improve the welfare of the rest of the family

Vital Statistics

Yemen’s lawmakers have since raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18.

The State of the World’s Children, a UNICEF report published in November 2009, mentions that the rate of child marriage among young women living in rural areas in the developing world is twice that of young women in cities.

Asking Nujood why she needed a divorce, the girl answered that she hated the night. Shada understood, and she proceeded to cover Nujood’s case pro bono. Yemeni law is such that husbands can consummate their marriages only at the indefinite time when their young wives are ‘ready’. In court, Shada argued that the marriage was against the law, as the 10-year-old girl was raped. Nujood didn’t want to consider the judge’s suggestion to resume the marriage after a break. She was reported as saying, ‘I hate the man and the marriage; I want to continue with my life.’ A week later, on April 15th, 2008, the judge granted Nujood a divorce.

Since then, Nujood’s life has changed: she has become an inspirational world icon. She has inspired other child brides, including an eight-year-old girl who was married to a 50-year old man.

Today, Nujood’s ambition is to become a lawyer.

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