Nada Al-Ahdal must be one of the bravest people alive today. This 11-year-old Yemeni girl managed to escape the fate that befalls so many girls of her age: a forced marriage.
Her story is harrowing. Nada, one of eight children, lived with her uncle in Saudi Arabia since she was three. According to Nada, her uncle, Abdel Salam al-Ahdal, was the only thing standing between her and life as a child bride.
Abdel Salam told NOW:
“When I heard about the groom, I panicked. Nada was not even 11 years old; she was exactly 10 years and 3 months. I could not allow her to be married off and have her future destroyed, especially since her aunt was forced to marry at 13 and burnt herself. I did all I could to prevent that marriage. I called the groom and told him Nada was no good for him. I told him she did not wear the veil and he asked if things were going to remain like that. I said ‘yes, and I agree because she chose it.’ I also told him that she liked singing and asked if he would remain engaged to her.”
According to NOW, the groom then ended the engagement. When he told Nada’s parents that he did not want to marry their daughter anymore, they were disappointed since they would no longer receive the bride price.
Despite her tender age, Nada is no stranger to arranged marriages. Her 18-year-old sister has been engaged several times, and her maternal aunt committed suicide by self-immolation after being forced to marry an abusive man. Even though Nada made her preferences very, very clear, her parents tried to marry her off again. That’s when Nada made this haunting video.
The video cannot be independently verified, but ultimately I’m not sure it matters because it gets at a larger truth. Child marriage is a global epidemic; 13.5 million girls are married before they are 18, according to a World Vision study released earlier this year. Girls in the developing world are the most vulnerable. Half of girls in the least developed countries marry before they are 18, and one in nine marry before they are 15. According to the World Health Organization, there are 39,000 child marriages every day.
It’s not just Western sensibilities that make me think this is a very bad thing. According to the WHO, girls who marry young are effectively denied an education and are at greater risk of intimate partner violence and of complications from pregnancy and childbirth:
According to the UN, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 years in developing countries. Of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth every year, about 90% are already married. UNICEF estimates some 50 000 die, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. Still births and newborn deaths are 50% higher among mothers under 20 than in women who get pregnant in their 20s.
The phenomenon of child marriage is a complicated melange of gender inequality, poverty and tradition. But it also violates the human rights and dignity of girls throughout the world. Nada’s story seems to have a happy ending for now, but millions of girls are still at risk, and our work is just beginning.
Photo Credit: Screenshot from YouTube / MEMRITVVideos