Yemen's 8-Year-old Divorcee

Newly divorced Yemeni girl looks forward to a normal childhood.

ByABC News
April 25, 2008, 11:50 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, April 25, 2008 — -- She may be the world's first 8-year-old divorcee.

When Nojoud Mohammed Ali's parents arranged her marriage to a 30-year-old man, it was consistent with the mores of Yemen, her home country on the tip of the Arabian peninsula. For girls like Nojoud, such arrangements mean falling prey to physical and sexual abuse.

"He used to do bad things to me, and I had no idea as to what a marriage is. I would run from one room to another in order to escape, but in the end he would catch me and beat me and then continued to do what he wanted," Nojoud told the Yemen Times.

"I cried so much, but no one listened to me."

But the child escaped. She fled from her new husband's home and found her way to a nearby courthouse. There she found a lawyer, Shatha Ali Nasser.

"I met her by chance in the court, and I took her case. She went alone to the court. The police and employees told me about her," Nasser told ABC News.

Nasser found an anonymous donor who paid Nojoud's 50,000 rial dowry (about $250) -- effectively, the cost of her divorce -- and two months into her unwitting wedlock she was free.

Nojoud is the first child bride to go to the court to seek a divorce. But she is one of many girls in Yemen forced to marry young.

More than 48 percent of girls in Yemen wed before the age of 18, according to statistics released in 2007 by the International Center for Research on Women.

Although the legal minimum is 15 years, parents can circumvent it if they consent to the match. That was the case for Nojoud.

"My father beat me and told me that I must marry this man, and if I did not, I would be raped and no law and no sheik in this country would help me. I refused, but I couldn't stop the marriage," she told the local press.

Now divorced, Nojoud lives with an uncle and will return to school.

But her lawyer, Shatha Nasser, plans to press on with her efforts to stop child marriage, helping girls like Nojoud lead a normal childhood. She is taking on new cases, plans to start a foundation for girls and is lobbying for legal change.