06 January 2011

A Brave Little Girl

In Yemen, there is a tribal proverb in the countryside proclaiming: "To guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine-year-old girl."

While it is important to recognize that different cultures follow different traditions that may differ from our own, it is difficult to understand the belief that marrying a very young child to a man many years her senior could ever be a positive decision.

Yet, that's exactly what happened to Nujood Ali. When she was just ten-years-old (an age which is an estimate by Nujood and her mother as her birth as "out in the countryside, people have bushels of babies without bohering with identify cards"), her father arranged to marry her to Faez Ali Thamer, a delivery man around thirty years of age.

Despite protests from Nujood and her older sister, the marriage proceeded. Although her new husband had promised Nujood's family he would not touch her until she had reached puberty, after taking her to her new home many miles away he raped her, a nightly horror Nujood endured in terror.

After weeks (or maybe months? the timeline is unclear) of crying, Nujood's "husband" agreed to take her to visit her family. Once there, Nujood begged her family for help. In vain. Her father's response? "It is out of the question for you to leave your husband!" Her mother "kept quiet, simply raising her arms to heaven and murmuring, 'That's how life is Nujood: all women must endure this; we have all gone through the same thing.'"

Nujood realized that, were she to ever be free, she would have to find her own solution. After telling her story to her father's second wife, she is advised to go to the court. And so, she does.

Nujood is fortunate to encounter sympathetic judges who assign a confident female lawyer to her case, leading to a battle which ends with Nujood is granted a divorce - the first child bride in Yemen to achieve this.

This story would make a harrowing novel. That it is all true makes it all the more horrific - and inspiring. Nujood's courage to free herself has inspired other children to seek divorces from marriages that, from a Westerner's perspective, seem no more than a way for a father to sell his child as a sex slave.

Nujood's memoir was published in the United States in 2010. It is a slim volume that reads quickly, but will stay with you forever. An epilogue updates us on Nujood's life and a reading group guide is included. There is also information on The Girls World Communication Center, which seeks to help girls who have been forced to leave school and those who are the vicitms of early marriage to continue their education.

An important book, I highly recommend I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui.


Erinello said...

Have you read Sold by Patricia McCormick? I have one of my guided reading groups reading it right now. It sounds similar. It's heartbreaking and beautifully written.

Miss Katharine said...

I read Sold in a pre-pub a while back. I agree that it's a powerful fictional account of the trials some girls are forced to endure. I'll bet it leads to discussions. It would be interesting to pair the two books.