Tag Archives: Nujood Ali
Roughly 27 child brides are forced into marriage in communities around the world every minute of every day.
But it takes only 30 seconds (seriously, we timed it) to sign Equality Now’s petition calling on the government of Yemen to enact a law establishing a minimum age of marriage. It’s a key first step to protecting the rights of girls in a country where fully one-third will be married as children.
Some of you may remember the moving story of Nujood Ali, who was 10 in 2008 when she bravely fled from her much older abusive husband to the courthouse in Sanaa—where she asked for, and was ultimately granted, a divorce. The following year, Yemen’s parliament considered establishing a minimum age of marriage of 17, but efforts faltered when conservative lawmakers characterized the effort as anti-Islam. Yemen’s human rights minister has called for that legislation to be reconsidered, and Equality Now’s petition is designed to support those efforts.
Nujood’s story grabbed international headlines, but literally thousands of girls just like her face the prospect each year of being married off in Yemen—14.2 million girls around the world. Equality Now and its partners Yemeni Women Union (YWU) and Arab Human Rights Foundation (AHRF) are working hard to not only stop those marriages, but to help married girls obtain divorces and protection.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now’s Middle East/North Africa consultant, was kind enough to explain the situation in Yemen to us in a Q-and-A below. We urge you to read her responses, sign the Equality Now petition by Jan. 1, 2014, and urge your loved ones to do the same.
In 2009, efforts to establish a legal minimum age of marriage in Yemen were defeated by conservatives in Parliament who insisted that such a law would go against Islam. What has changed since then? How can supporters of such legislation assure its passage this time around? What new arguments are being employed to convince lawmakers that setting a minimum marriage age is the right thing to do?
Yemen is currently undergoing a ‘national dialogue’ process, which seeks to debate the future of the state and draft a new constitution. We are hopeful that previous grievances can be put aside and a productive collaboration between parties to ensure that all girls at risk of child marriage are properly protected will develop. This is a fundamental and non-negotiable human rights issue, as opposed to a political concern.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreement of 2011 states that parliamentarians should agree on suggested laws, so cross-party support is important. Arguments in favour of ensuring a minimum age of marriage have not changed, but the political situation has changed since the National Dialogue Conference.
Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour has asked that the legislation considered in 2009 be reintroduced for consideration. What legal steps need to be taken to have that legislation reintroduced? Who within the government do supporters need to contact to make that happen?
According to the Gulf Cooperation Council agreement of 2011, the parliament should vote collectively on suggested drafts laws. This could be a challenge, but consensus is possible. Alternatively, a request could be made from the fantastic Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mashhour, or the speaker of the house, Yahia Al-Ra’i, to introduce and vote on the suggested draft law. If the parliament doesn’t agree, the president can intervene and issue a decree. We are hopeful that in such a scenario, the president would recommend that a minimum age of marriage is introduced.
Your petition has more than 1,800 signatures on it now. How many ideally would you like to send to Yemen? How many signatures would it take to get parliament to address this issue? Is there an official process by which it can be presented so it becomes part of the public, official record?
We are very grateful to everyone who has signed so far. There is no ideal number as such – every signature matters and helps to put pressure on the relevant authorities to re-introduce the minimum age of marriage bill. We are working both publically and behind the scenes to advocate for change.
When is the petition slated to be sent to Yemen? Is there a deadline by which supporters should sign it?
We are constantly working on this issue with our local partners in Yemen – we urge supporters to sign as soon as they possibly can as there may be a limited opportunity to get the proposed legislation introduced as part of the National Dialogue process, which is due to end in the near future. We do not know what the exact date might be, but the process is likely to end early 2014.
Other than setting a minimum age for marriage, what else would the law need to address for it to be effective in Yemen?
Without a minimum age of marriage, there is no legal protection for girls at risk of child marriage, so this is the most important element. However, we also urge the Yemen government to ensure that child brides who have ended their marriages are supported and safeguarded.
In the meantime, absent a marriage law, how have Equality Now and Yemen Women’s Union been able to assist young girls who have been married against their will or are in danger of being married? Besides signing the petition, what can regular members of the public do to assist EN and YWU in their efforts?
Without a minimum age of marriage, any efforts made to protect girls at risk are just piecemeal and unsystematic. There is a significant amount of support for safeguarding girls at risk, but ensuring legal protection and justice for these girls is the cornerstone of their empowerment. Without a law, girls continue to be put in harm’s way. As well as signing the petition, we encourage members of the public to spread the word about this campaign by sharing the Action and increasing awareness of this issue as much as they can through their own networks.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about this issue?
The Yemeni government is legally bound to introduce and approve this bill. The failure of the Yemeni government to ban child marriage is a violation of their international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and also the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), both of which contain provisions against child marriage or practices prejudicial to the health of children. In 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee in its examination of Yemen’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), called on Yemen to “set a minimum age for marriage that complies with international standards.”
Along with our partners, Yemeni Women Union (YWU) and Arab Human Rights Foundation (AHRF), we enthusiastically support Minister Mashhour in her efforts to ensure that the government of Yemen lives up to its obligations under international law. We also urge the general public to help put pressure on the government of Yemen to make the rights of women and girls a priority, to pass and enforce a law prohibiting child marriage, and to ensure the safety and human rights of child brides who have ended their marriages.
— Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Middle East/North Africa Consultant, Equality Now
Nujood Ali was 10 when she hailed a cab to the courthouse in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a in April 2008.
Only two months earlier, her father had married her off to a man three times her age, and every day—and every night—since had been a nightmare.
She did not intend to become a cause célèbre that afternoon. She simply wanted a divorce and said as much to the first judge who acknowledged her presence.
But in Yemen—where child marriage is common but divorce considerably less so—Nujood’s case got people talking. Soon enough, her story made international headlines.
In countries where child marriage was uncommon or even nonexistent, Nujood’s tale raised awareness of the practice and the dangers associated with it. And in places like Yemen where plenty of girls shared her plight, it inspired other child brides to speak up for their rights.
Roughly 32 percent of Yemeni girls are married before they turn 18, according to the latest statistics gathered by the UNFPA. Most of them stay married, whether they want to or not.
What made Nujood’s case so different? It would be impossible to overstate the courage of an impoverished 10-year-old girl who would set off alone in her very first cab ride to a packed courthouse in Sana’a and demand a divorce. But her courage was only the starting point. She was helped along the way by a number of factors.
Playing a minor but crucial role was Nujood’s stepmother, who heard the girl’s complaints of being beaten and raped by her husband and urged her to take her case the courthouse. It was an incredibly bold suggestion, and risky at that. Unsympathetic court officials could have branded the child a runaway and returned her to her abuser. Instead, Nujood encountered a judge who was so stunned by her tenacity that he gave her safe harbor and had her father and husband arrested.
Next, she found a lawyer—Sana’a’s first female lawyer—willing to take her case for free. Shada Nasser had heard the hubbub at the courthouse surrounding the little girl’s efforts and thought she had a solid case. While child marriage is common in Yemen, the law insists that husbands wait for their wives to reach puberty before consummating the marriage.
Nujood’s husband hadn’t waited. So Nasser argued that the marriage violated Yemeni law because Nujood had been raped. Two weeks after she took that cab to the courthouse—and two months after she was married—Nujood was granted a divorce.
It was a landmark case that inspired at least three other child brides to reach out to Nasser, who took their cases.
“I am happy because I was able to help all the girls here in Yemen,” Nasser told Joshua Hersh for a New Yorker article in March 2010. “Since Nujood, I’ve been in touch with other girls asking about divorce. It’s like you open the window for all of the girls to go and complain, and that makes me very happy.”
Last—and perhaps most important for the millions of girls around the world in Nujood’s position—people were willing to listen to her story, share it and act on it. News organizations around the globe spread the tale of the little girl who battled tradition—and won. Nujood was hailed as one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year in 2008.
French journalist Delphine Minoui then worked with Nujood on an autobiography titled “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.” It was published in France in January 2009 and then in at least 20 different languages, including English.
Nujood was one of 16 children, and her father insisted that one of the reasons he married her off was because the family couldn’t afford to keep her. Proceeds from the book sales have helped Nujood’s family, eliminating any financial need to marry her or any of her sisters off any time soon. And the income has helped keep Nujood in school.
Her dream now? To become a lawyer.
“I want to defend oppressed people,” she told the L.A. Times. “I want to be like Shada. I want to be an example for all the other girls.”