Thursday, April 29, 2010
In 2008, at the start of her school vacation, 12-year-old Reem Al Numery of Yemen was forced to marry her 30-year-old cousin.
“While my hair was styled for the ceremony, I thought of ways to set fire to my wedding dress,” Reem told U.S. Embassy officials in an interview. “When I protested, my dad gagged me and tied me up. After the wedding, I tried to kill myself twice.”
Young girls in Yemen are often condemned to marriage by their families to relieve economic pressure. Custom dictates that when the bride is a minor, her husband wait until she reaches puberty to consummate the marriage, but Reem was brutally raped on her wedding night. Her husband choked and bit her, dragged her by the hair and overwhelmed her with his greater strength when she resisted sex.
Reem initiated divorce proceedings but since her father will not consent, a judge ruled that she must remain married until she can make her own decisions at age 15. Apparently the inconsistencies are lost on the Yemeni courts that she can be married against her will at any age but not divorced until she is old enough. She now lives with her mother, but is still at the mercy of her father and husband because Yemen has no laws addressing sexual abuse within a marriage.
The exceptional courage of Reem Al Numery exposes a tradition of paternal complicity, and challenges her country's legal system to put an unequivocal end to a practice that robs girls of their childhood. It's impossible to fathom a concept of parenthood which does not include protection of ones children.
“My dad said he'll kill me for defying him,” Reem told reporters, “but I want to go back to school.”
Reem was recognized by the U.S. Secretary of State with a 2009 International Women of Courage Award. I hope she lives long enough to escape and determine the course of her own life. That seems so little to ask.