Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marriage as Weapon

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.


Saint Dolores said...

I wonder if the increased disapproval of the western world to these cultures has any effect. I wonder if it just makes them more proud of how different they are from us.

Warty Mammal said...

Christ. Poor kid. What a nightmare she's living.

Whitney Lee said...

That's hideous. I know that this happens more often than anyone would want to believe which simply makes it more heartbreaking. I cannot imagine parenting like that. I hope you're right and that this child lives long enough to get out.

Molly said...

We take our freedoms so much for granted here.I hope she gets out of there alive and to a civilized country before she is subjected to more abuse---at the hands of her own father, no less!

nick said...

Good for her resisting this archaic tradition of forced marriage and wanting to continue her schooling. It's about time the Yemeni authorities stopped supporting oppressive, sexist attitudes to women and upheld women's right to determine their own lives. I hope many more Reems will refuse to do what they're told.

furiousBall said...

I am of the opinion that marriage should be criminalized

TechnoBabe said...

This is a sad horrible story. The customs in other countries seem so barbaric. I too hope she lives long enough to make her decision legal and in doing that maybe she will be helping other young girls too.

Cecilieaux said...

I'm with Saint Dolores on the notion that Western disapproval is not the best route to change. Internal dissent is and this young woman has shown remarkable courage to dissent in the face of incredible odds. However, it would be more helpful to her (and Yemen) if some liberal Muslim cleric were to support her.

I'm also with Warty Mammal and I think furiousBall hits a bullseye: why marriage at all?

Cecilieaux said...

Oh, but she's very cute and when she's 18 ... she ought to watch out for the suitors she'll have.

the only daughter said...

This tale makes me angry and ill.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I doubt our disapproval helps, and in fact it may spur them on to defy us and all we stand for.


Yes. And she is the tip of the iceberg, one of few who have made their plights known.


So many cultures regard girls as chattel, a wife raised for another family, a mouth they resent feeding. The romantic ideals we hold dear do not exist for most of the world's female populations.


Where there is no love, it's all too easy to abuse. And that is true in all situations.


She is paying a heavy price for her rebelliousness. And it's about time ALL sexist attitudes were outlawed everywhere.


Sometimes I agree with you. It provides far too many opportunities to hurt others up close and personal.


I've learned that another Yemeni girl was granted a divorce at age TEN, but her father must have agreed to it. The practice is utterly barbaric and should have dire consequences for those who inflict such horrors on children.


I'm sure there must be liberal Muslim clerics, but since I have never heard of any, it seems like an oxymoron.

She is cute, and her life is tormented. There should be a way to bring her to a safe Western country under some civil rights violations umbrella.


Me, too! It's a perversion of parenthood, love and committed relationships.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Her fate is utterly horrific & disgusting and I won't type here what I think should happen to that 30 year old monster she's married to, but I will say this...

I admire her courage and strength, I am proud of her for her resilience and determination. With that kind of spirit and heart, I do not doubt that she will change this nightmarish time of her life for the better. She is in my prayers in the meantime.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Cecilieaux said...

HSIF, there is a way she could be admitted to the USA, but she'd have to make her way here first. Victims of domestic abuse or trafficking in humans are eligible for a visa almost instantly. But they have to be here.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's too bad that guy can't be tied up in a room with 100 angry women wielding 2x4's.


That's very useful to know, but I doubt that this particular young girl has the resources to go anywhere. It seems that the UN should have an organization to save people like her.

secret agent woman said...

I went to a talk today by the president of Population Connection, an organization that works on stabilizing population growth through birth control, and raising awareness about laws affecting women including things like education and marriage. The more power women gain, the better off we all are.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


When I managed a domestic violence shelter, I initiated a GED program to try to break the cycle of dependence upon abusers. At least some of them got jobs after getting the diploma. Education is definitely key in empowering women.

Cecilieaux said...

Why pandemonium? What about "Yentl"?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You must have meant this comment for a different post. I think Yentl was just unhappy that as a female, she was not encouraged to use her good mind.

Meredith B. said...

my heart drops and my stomach is queasy as i read through this. ugh. I too hope she lives long enough to fight.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's awful to contemplate the lives so many children suffer. I wish it were possible to save them all.