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YEMEN: Divorced child bride Nujood makes a fresh stand: 'We are not toys. We are children.'

December 13, 2009 |  7:38 am

NojoudNujood Ali was just 10 years old when she borrowed bus fare to a Yemeni courthouse and demanded a divorce from her husband, more than 20 years her senior.

A year and a half later, Ali is using her fame and the money she received for her story to help 12-year-old Sally Sabahi file for divorce from her 21-year-old husband.

The Yemen Observer reported Friday that Ali has announced her intention to donate nearly $500 to Sabahi's cause, half the sum of the dowry needed to buy her freedom. Ali's lawyer, Shadha Nasser, also has said she will take on the case.

“Please free Sally from this unfair marriage and let her go back to play with her friends, brothers and sisters,” Ali said. "We are not toys. We are children."

Ali's divorce became a landmark case, sparking an international media firestorm that, for better or worse, made her a representative of child brides in Yemen.

Sabahi, who was married two years ago, said she was raped repeatedly by her husband. Her family told her it was normal and even drugged her with painkillers so her husband could force himself on her.

“I would hit my head with glass bottles so as to not sleep and lie awake all night long,” Sabahi recounted.

After being allowed to return to her family for a period, Sabahi's husband came to collect her a few weeks ago, and she reportedly suffered a mental breakdown.

Still, Sabahi's own father does not seem to recognize his son-in-law's actions as rape, according to media reports.

“It seems he scared her the first night and that’s why she got horrified and now is suffering from a sex complex,” he told the Observer.

Early marriages are not uncommon in Yemen, especially in rural areas where tribal customs prevail and extreme poverty can drive families to sell their daughters to older men for cash dowries. Although the legal age of consent in Yemen is 15, a 2006 study conducted by Sana University reported that 52% of girls were married by 18.

In September, the death of 12-year-old Fawziyeh Abdullah Youssef during childbirth renewed pressure on the Yemeni president to ratify a law that would raise the minimum age for marriage to 17.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Nujood Ali was just 9 when she went against her family's wishes and requested a divorce from her husband, who was more than 20 years her senior. Credit: Associated Press

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