Runaway bride [Archives:2006/915/Last Page]

January 26 2006

Fatma Al-Ajel
Arwa lives in a small poor neighborhood with her large family. At age 15, she is the eldest of five girls and five boys. After her mother died, Arwa became responsible for her siblings. Because of the family's low financial status and the cruelness of her father, she was forced to leave school and care for her brothers and sisters. Arwa always looked for a change in her life and dreams of having her own kingdom, creating her own family with a kind, well-off husband. She always used to say, “I'll educate my children in excellent schools.”

“I have the right to marry four wives,” is a phrase we hear every day from Yemeni men. They marry today and divorce tomorrow, causing injustice to women and their children. Today's men do not understand what it takes to have more than one wife, nor does society as a whole comprehend the consequences of allowing men to unleash their desires and how this reflects on society. What follows about Arwa is a true story that happened in Yemeni society.

One day, a 50-year-old man came to Arwa's father and asked to marry her. The potential groom offered the family a lot of money, explaining that he was divorced with one child and would take care of the 15-year-old bride and attend to her needs. Lured by greed, the father agreed and it was not until a week before the wedding that he informed her of the decision. Not knowing anything about her future husband nor having much of a choice, Arwa yielded to her father's decision, although she was not given a chance to even meet her husband. All she knew was that she wanted to escape her miserable life. However, she was in for an unpleasant surprise. It also surprised the neighborhood when it learned Arwa ran away from her husband's house the first night. The husband awoke the next morning to find his new wife gone.

Why did she run away? What happened to her? These were some of the questions that spread like wildfire in the neighborhood. Arwa's friend Raja'a revealed the mystery. Apparently, the husband looked really old and previously had married 11 wives. Arwa was number 12. He had 14 children, the eldest of whom was age 23 with two children of her own. “My family convinced me to marry him because he had money and would give me whatever I wanted. I never imagined this would be the life I was promised,” Arwa said, regretting her fate.

The groom had hidden this information from Arwa's family and in turn, Arwa's father, so blinded by greed, did not tell Arwa about her husband nor question the groom's allegations. Arwa described her wedding night experience, “The moment I entered my husband's house, I saw an old man standing with 14 children around him. I was shocked, especially when I realized this old man was my husband and these were his children with whom I was supposed to live. I was in a horrible situation. I couldn't imagine how I could live with this family. I had to run away.”

That night while her husband was fast asleep, she called her family and told them to come urgently and take her home. She told them of her discovery and it surprised her father as well. He came for his daughter and the old man awoke the next day to find his new bride gone. To his surprise, Arwa's family soon brought a religious judge authorized to approve marriages and divorces, along with security to force the husband to sign divorce papers releasing Arwa.

Arwa's story was the talk of the neighborhood for a long time. People debated the issue and whose fault it was. Who is the criminal and who is the victim? How can such a tragic story not be repeated in the future?

The husband's neighbor, Mr. Mohammed, said, “When the girl's father came to ask me about the husband, I told him the truth, that he has married more than twice, that he marries a girl for two or three years, then divorces her without reason and marries another one. But the father didn't believe me.”

How Arwa will go on with her life is yet to be seen. But more importantly, why did such a thing happen in the first place? What do you think? E-mail comments under the subject, “Runaway bride.”