Yemeni girl Nada Al-Ahdal, 11, made international news when she fled an arranged marriage at the age of just 10, despite objections from both of her parents. Al-Ahdal appeared in an emotional video calling forced child marriage “simply criminal,” and telling her parents, “I’m done with you, you ruined my dreams.”
Now Al-Ahdal has made another appearance, this time facing off against a Muslim cleric on Lebanese TV in a segment translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
As in her first video, Al-Ahdal appeared composed and highly eloquent for her tender age as she explained what pushed her to run away the week before her wedding.
“I fled marriage and ignorance, so that I could continue to study,” she said.
“I didn’t run away just because of the (intention) to marry me off, but because of the ignorance and because I wanted to study… They told me (marriage) was a game, but it isn’t. It turns you into a servant, and places a burden that is greater than you can bear on your shoulders,” she declared.
Nobody encouraged her to run away, she said. She felt she must flee “or this would be the end of my life,” she recalled. She ran to her uncle, who
Nada revealed that she was 10 when her marriage was to have taken place. The man she had been engaged to was 26. He had paid her impoverished family $2,000 in exchange for her hand in marriage.
Her uncle appeared on the program as well, and revealed that Nada’s 14-year-old sister was recently married off, and that a 12-year-old sister is engaged to be married in the near future.
The cleric who appeared on the show insisted that a distinction must be made between contractual marriage and consummated marriage. Fathers have the right to engage their children to be married from the moment they are born, he said. “This is an accepted custom,” he explained.
However, he said, girls should only begin living with their husbands when they are ready to do so. “It is not permitted until the woman is ready to bear it,” he declared.
The age at which girls are ready “varies from girl to girl,” he continued. “One girl may be ready at the age of nine, and another may not be ready even at 25,” he said.
He argued that mothers and aunts can tell if there is a risk that a girl will be harmed by marriage or not.
He did not address the arguments made by Nada or other Yemeni child brides regarding education. While the most highly publicized cases of child marriage gone wrong are those in which child brides have died due to genital tearing, or in childbirth, girls who are forced to marry have also expressed concern over the fact that they are forced to leave school.
Some are later divorced or abandoned by their husbands, often after having children, leaving them with no means of support.
Yemen has one of the highest rates of child-marriages in the world, with girls sometimes even younger than ten married off to men several times their age.
A MEMRI-translated clip on the tragic results of child marriage in Yemen:
Nada's original video: