September 2, 2010

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced: A commentary on human rights

The title of Nujood Ali’s book was certainly enough to get my attention.  “I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.”  As a very young child, her father told her she would be marrying a man in his 30s.   And sadly, this was expected.  This was normal.  Marrying at a young age was something Nujood had seen before.

Nujood grew up in Yemen where 45% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, the average age of marriage is 12 or 13 years old, and educational opportunities are lacking.  It is a way of life that many of us can not even imagine.  Child brides suffer numerous problems, such as health issues, early pregnancies, mental health concerns, and continued poverty.  There are no positive outcomes from a childhood marriage.

However, Nujood’s story is different because she decided to take action.  She knew this was not the lifestyle she wanted and knew she was missing out on her childhood.  Bravely, Nujood asked a judge for a divorce and surprisingly, it was granted.  Within days, her case made headlines around the world.  People were in awe of this brave little girl who stood up for her rights.  Nujood was even honored in 1998 as one of Glamour’s “Women of the Year.”
Unfortunately, not every child bride escapes this fate.  Elham Assi’s story is one that did not end well and brings tears to my eyes.  At age 13, she bled to death after being raped by her husband.  Elham was also from a poor Yemeni village.  The tragedy of young children forced into marriage continues and did not stop with Elham or Nujood’s story.  Although legislation to raise the legal marriage age to 17 has been proposed, girls younger than 17 are still getting married.

Many feel outrage when they hear these stories and wonder what can be done.  There must be a way to prevent this from happening again.  Groups working to ban child marriage are criticized for trying to implement a ‘Western agenda’, however there are still organizations willing to fight against this injustice.

Global Action for Children is one group that offers suggestions for taking action.  (Angelina Jolie donated $1 million to their cause in 2006).  They encourage citizens to speak out by writing to hometown newspapers or to Congress.  Specific pointers are available on their web site for people needing tips on what to write.  Care is a different group fighting the same cause, asking people to sign a petition telling Congress to Help Stop Child Marriage.

Many hope that one day marriage will be something these young girls can choose to do when they are at an appropriate age.  In the meantime, much work needs to be done and I am glad to see there are organizations working against this problem.

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