The story of Nujood, Arwa, Reem and many other Yemeni girls [Archives:2008/1180/Viewpoint]

August 11 2008

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
There were three girls, each sharing only the same tragedy but for almost totally different reasons and under varying circumstances.

First there was Nujood, 9 years old, who comes from an extremely poor and illiterate family at the suburbs of Sana'a. Nujood's family was one of those many poor people who were crushed into submission. In other words they were passive to the extent that nothing much mattered. At the prospect of getting some money, Nujood's father happily married her off to a village in Hajja where she stayed for two months. Her older brother didn't see anything wrong in getting his sister married off at such a young age. “All girls get married, what the problem? She is with her husband.” He said.

When she ran away to the court and got a sympathetic judge to look into her case and a strong lawyer who advocates for children's rights, she finally was divorced. Especial thanks were to national and international media who embarrassed the father into reclaiming his job as the protector of Nujood. Now she lives with her family and is considered a source of income through her connections with civil society and media who give her money to simply be there and talk about her story or accept to be photographed.

Second there was Arwa, a child of 8 who also belongs to a poor family but this time in Jibla of Ibb governorate. Her family was relying on a relative who lived in their house and helped support their living. This man eventually asked to marry Arwa's older sister. Her father being quite old left the decision to his young careless wife, who decided it would be better if Arwa was married off instead since she needed the older daughter to help at the house work anticipating that the new couple would eventually move out. The man stayed in the house for two weeks until Arwa fled and with the assistance of a woman she knew, she arrived at the local police station only to be claimed by a distant relative who took care of her until she got divorced. Today she is rotating between her home and her relative's home, while her ex-husband is still living in her father's house. Through his tears, her ageing father says he regrets it, the mother has no comment. And Arwa seems much traumatized by the whole issue.

Finally there is Reem, the classic story of father and mother divorced. Father kidnaps daughter, gets her married off to get back at the mother. Reem runs away to her mother who hides her from dad and pleads with the judicial system to get her 12 years old daughter divorced from a husband who raped her every day for at least two weeks before her escape. She is still in the hiding, and the judicial system is on vacation for the next two months because the judges are keeping fast.

Today, we celebrate those three girls because they have one thing in common in addition to getting married at an early age; they said no, and ran for their lives.

There are thousands of Yemeni girls who do not have the courage or who are afraid that the alternative to their hellish marriage is a lot worse. And this is why we, as responsible human beings need to create an institutionalized mechanism to shelter those girls and provide them with a better alternative. There would be no point in sympathizing and praising those girls if at the end of the day we all go home and they have no where to turn to. We need to put our heads together and reach out to Nujood, Arwa and Reem, and many more who are still living in the shadows of a passive society that when injustice befalls on its most vulnerable members, prefers to turn the other way.