Nojoud Nasser was an ordinary 8-year-old girl until her unemployed, mentally unstable father forced her into marriage with a man, 22-years, her senior.

After two months of sexual and physical abuse Nojoud ran away with the aid of her uncle and filed a case against her father and husband.

On April 15, with support from her lawyer Shatha Mohammed Nasser and Judge Abud Al-Khaleaq Ghowber, Nojoud paid her way out of marriage with YR 100,000 from an anonymous donor in the Emirates and happily became an 8-year-old divorcee, according to the Yemen Times.

“This was the first time a girl came to us for a divorce. We are going to do our best to push the parliament to change the marriage law,” said Judge Ghowber.

“I am so happy to be free and I will go back to school and will never think of getting married again,” Nojoud said joyfully. “It is a good feeling to be rid of my husband and his bad treatment.”

While Nojoud is no longer locked into a young marriage, many women in Yemen and other undeveloped countries are made into a wife, before the age of 18.

According to the International Center for Research on Women’s 2007 statistics, Yemen is one of 20 developing countries where early marriage is common. Nearly half of all Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18.

Most women have their first child immediately after their first menstruation cycle and are likely to have a child every 12 months during their reproductive lifespan. Yemen’s fertility rate is extremely high, with an average 6.3 children per each woman, and the country also has some of the highest mother and infant mortality rates worldwide.

According to research on early marriage in Yemen from Oxfam and the United Nations Population Fund, there are severe physical consequences that result from early marriage and subsequent early childbirth such as nutritional anemia, post-partum hemorrhages, obstetric fistula (a disorder that affects the bladder and causes leaking of urine or feces), plus mother and infant mortality.

Additionally, many girls like Nojoud develop irreparable psychological complexes from early marriage and the forced sexual encounters that accompany it. Early marriage also contributes to divorce and family problems.

“I pray that my younger sisters do not face the same fate,” said Nojoud. Now the 8-year-old is living with her uncle and his family in relative safety.

But what is being done to ensure that other young ladies aren’t subject to a life of mental and physical torment?

The Yemeni personal status law stipulates that a girl cannot be wed until she is ready for intercourse, which in essence leaves the judgment up to the girl’s parents or guardians.

Judge Ghowber explained that early marriages are usually the fault of the parents. He insisted that there must be increased awareness among Yemeni families in order to avoid these serious mistakes.

A number of Yemeni religious scholars, including some in the Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee in the Parliament, say that since there is no religious statement defining a minimum age for marriage, then early marriage is perfectly fine if not desirable.

Other scholars and religious authorities, like Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar, the Minister of Endowment, want to create legislation to prevent parents from marrying their girls off at a young age and to prevent religious sheikhs from endorsing such marriages.

“Those who approve of girls marrying at 13, 14 or even below 18, are barbaric men who abuse childhood and are irresponsible,” said religious scholar Yahiya Al-Najar, the former Minister of Endowment.

“Those who say that defining a minimum age for marriage is un-Islamic do not understand the religion at all,” said Al-Hitar. “Defining a minimum age of marriage is a need dedicated by life’s nature.”

The Yemeni parliament is equally divided between MPs who believe in safe motherhood (and thereby banning early marriage) and those who don’t. Deputy speaker of Parliament, MP Himyar Al-Ahmar, said that he supports the creation of legislation against early marriage, requested by the Women’s National Committee, but prefers to forward the issue to the Evaluation and Jurisprudence Committee, which is strongly against such legislation.

Rasheeda Al-Hamadani, chair of the Women’s National Committee, promised to continue to raise awareness about the issue by holding workshops soon with religious leaders, MPs and decision makers.

To read the complete article please visit The Yemen Times.

Tamika M. Murray blogs at PJ’s and A Movie and Stop and Stare Photos.

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