In a video ostensibly posted online on July 8, but which was only released in its most viral form on Sunday through the Middle East Media Research Institute, an 11-year-old Yemeni girl named Nada al-Ahdal speaks about her experiences avoiding being married off to an older man by her parents.
The video has now gone viral on Youtube and other outlets, with over 5.7 million views on the original MEMRI channel.
Ahdal, who speaks to the camera in Arabic, which was later subtitled in English, passionately conveys her cause, and the cause of other victims of child marriage. Ahdal discusses an issue that in her community was widespread, sometimes leading to desperate children killing themselves by throwing themselves into the sea or dousing themselves in gasoline and setting themselves on fire. Ahdal’s mother tried to arrange two marriages with her—one to a Yemeni expatriate in Saudi Arabia, and another to a more local man, both for money.
The girl has not lived with her parents full-time for over a year, instead staying for prolonged periods with her uncle Abdulrahman al-Ahdal, a seemingly progressive man who was against his niece getting married at such a young age. The first time Ahdal’s mother attempted to marry her off, Abdulrahman contacted the potential bridegroom and scared him off by claiming Ahdal was not sufficiently modest. The second time an attempted arrangement occurred, Ahdal ran away for good, despite having her life threatened by her own mother, and is now in protective custody. She claims to be done with her life with her parents.
Yemen is one of two countries, along with Brunei, that do not have a minimum marriageable age, only mandating that consummation and intercourse are held off until they are “suitable for sexual intercourse,” a nebulous timeframe, according to the Yemen Times. Some take this to mean that intercourse should not occur until the child reaches the age of consent, which was 15 until 2009, when efforts were taken to change the minimum marriageable age to 18. However, that legislation was stymied, and the standard today is murky.
Practices like child marriage are easier to get away with in countries like Yemen than in other countries because of the extreme decentralization, and comparative weakness of the central government. Even if legislation were passed to institute a minimum marriageable age, in a country that was only united from two halves in 1994, and which is politically still dominated by local tribes and groups, getting away with breaking these laws would likely be commonplace.
This is not the first time that Yemen’s issue with child brides has reached international attention. In 2008, Nujood Ali was granted a divorce at the age of 10 from a middle-aged man with the assertion that she was raped. Ali and her attorney, Shada Nasser, became figureheads for the fight against child marriage in Yemen. It was a case that carried large global scrutiny, and culminated in both Ali and Nasser winning the Glamour magazine Woman of the Year award.
By Laura Gates
Source: Middle East Media Research Institute, Yemen Times, Huffington Post, Glamour