Yemeni girl flees parents to escape forced marriage

11-year-old Nada Al-Ahdal from Yemen fled her home to escape a forced marriage.
11-year-old Nada Al-Ahdal from Yemen fled her home to escape a forced marriage. 

“I’m better off dead. I’d rather die.” An 11-year-old girl speaks out about child marriage.

It is often said that every little girl dreams of her wedding day. But in some parts of the world, when the wedding day arrives, the bride is still just a little girl.

Earlier this month, 11-year-old Nada Al-Ahdal from Yemen fled from her immediate family when she discovered that they were going to force her into marriage. Her uncle helped her stand her ground. In an articulate and impassioned speech on Memri TV about her decision to escape, Nada said that if the marriage had occurred, “I would have had no life, no education.”

Unfortunately, Nada’s story is not unique. Despite the United Nations declaring that child marriage violates human rights and children’s rights, it is endemic in many parts of the world. Estimates are as high as 40% of young girls being forced into marriage in some parts of South Asia and Africa.

Not only is the practice a gross abuse of human rights, but unsurprisingly it also has a significant impact on the children involved. A 2009 study in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that child marriage “directly impacts girls’ education, health, psychological well-being, and the health of their offspring. It increases the risk for depression, sexually transmitted infection, cervical cancer, malaria, obstetric fistulas, and maternal mortality.” What’s worse is that in Yemen, where Nada is from, it has been reported that young men or widowers often rape young girls first and claim them as their wives afterwards.

The alternative to child marriage for Nada was death. “Go ahead and marry me off,” she says in the video recording. “I’ll kill myself just like that. I won’t go back to live with them [her family]. I won’t … I’m better off dead. I’d rather die.” Sadly, remaining in a forced marriage can have similarly devastating outcomes. There are numerous reported cases of young Yemeni girls bleeding to death after sexual intercourse with their husbands.

Nada and Nujood have insisted on their own value and worth, creating small splinters in what have been long held traditions ...

We might wonder where Nada, who filed a complaint with the Yemeni police against her mother (“I told them I was 11-years-old and that she wants to marry me off,” she says in her video statement), gets her courage from. Perhaps from seeing others in the same situation.

In 2008, another Yemeni girl, this time 10-year-old Nujood Ali, independently made her way to a courthouse to file for divorce from her husband of two months, a man aged in his 30s. Nujood was granted a divorce and captured attention worldwide. Her book, I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, has now been translated into more than 25 languages. Many children, emboldened by Nujood’s case have also filed for divorce in Yemen.

In the West we hear all about insurgents and rebels in areas of the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but we also need to see that these little girls are rebels. But rebels of the best kind. Through trying to change their individual circumstances, Nada and Nujood have insisted on their own value and worth, creating small splinters in what have been long held traditions.

Research has shown that one of the most effective methods of reducing child marriage and its consequences is mandating education for girls. In Yemen, the level of education for females is low (around 30% in secondary school) but in recent years there have been attempts to close the gender gap. It’s not clear what the future holds for Nada. Even less apparent is what will happen to the millions of girls every year who are forced into marriages when they are still children.

Refusing to be coerced and silenced into marriage, Nada has stepped away from her family. The nightmare she has escaped means she no longer holds her family close. “My mother, my family, believe me when I say: I’m done with you,” she says. “You’ve ruined my dreams.”