A young Yemeni girl stares defiantly into the camera. Her question is a shocking one, coming from an 11-year-old:
"Would it make you happy to marry me off?" asks Nada Al-Ahdal.
In the nearly two-and-a-half-minute video, which was uploaded to YouTube and quickly went viral, Nada accuses her parents of trying to get her married off in exchange for money. She explains how she doesn't want to be one of Yemen's child brides.
"Death would be a better option for me," she declares.
Nada also speaks on behalf of other Yemeni girls: "What about the innocence of childhood? What have the children done wrong so that you would marry them off like that?"
The video, which been seen by millions of people around the world, has put a spotlight once more on Yemen's child marriages.
It has also made Nada an online sensation, although questions have been raised: Did her story add up? Was she really being pressured to get married?
Nada's parents have repeatedly stressed they have no intention to marry her off. And Seyaj, Yemen's leading child-rights organization, said they believed portions of Nada's story were fabricated.
Yemen's history with child marriage
In deeply tribal Yemen, the issue of child marriage is extremely complicated.
In 2008, 10-year-old Nujood Ali shocked the world when she went to a court in Sanaa and asked a judge for a divorce.
After a highly publicized trial, she was granted one. She became a heroine to those trying to raise awareness about Yemen, where more than half of all young girls are married before age 18, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 2009, Yemen's parliament passed legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 17. But conservative parliamentarians argued the bill violated Islamic law, which does not stipulate a minimum age of marriage, and the bill was never signed. Activist groups and politicians are still trying change the law, but more than 100 leading religious clerics have said restricting the age of marriage is "un-Islamic."
"The consequences of child marriage are devastating and long-lasting -- girls are removed from school, their education permanently disrupted, and many suffer chronic health problems as a result of having too many children too soon," said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. "It is critical that Yemen takes immediate and concrete steps to protect girls from these abuses, including setting a minimum age of marriage."
Yemeni journalist Hind Aleryani, who interviewed Nada after the release of her video, says child marriage is a terrible problem in Yemen.
"It's common more in the poorer communities," Aleryani said. "There is a proverb, a Yemeni saying: 'Marry an 8-year-old girl, she's guaranteed,' which means the 8-year-old girl is surely a virgin. It's a disgusting saying and inhumane, but it's said by everyone and it's very well-known."
Aleryani adds, however, that there's reason for hope -- explaining how the fact there's been such a huge reaction to Nada's video proves attitudes are beginning to shift there.
"Things changed a lot after the revolution, and now people are more aware of the problem," she said. "Before we used to feel like there's no hope -- you can't do anything about it. Those conservative parties used to be stronger than us, but lately they are not."
Read the rest here.
The hell of it is, I'm far less surprised about this piece than I am dismayed and disgusted. Over the last couple of years, I've seen links to YouTube videos where imams or other islamic clerics assert that it's perfectly legal under shariah for men to marry children as young as ONE YEAR OLD. Doubtless, they're using Mohammed's marriage to Aisha (married at six years old, consummated at nine, as I understand it) as an example.
Once again we see the pattern of ANYONE other than grown men in the islamic world being treated as chattel, as property, as articles of commerce. Certainly there's hope in the the work that Liesl Gerntholtz and others like her are doing, but there is a lot of resistance as well ... and until that resistance is overcome, I expect to hear the stories about many more Nadas from places like Yemen, and indeed any place where the people are under the thumb of shariah.