‘My husband treated me as a sex object. He saw marriage as a means to act like a depraved animal’: Yemeni child bride who was married to a man three times her age when she was just ELEVEN
- Noora Al Shami’s parents gave her to distant cousin to escape poverty
- Ran in fear when he first took his clothes off and avoided sex for 10 days
- He ‘treated her like sex object but no one cared because she was his wife’
- She had two miscarriages and gave birth to three children by the age of 15
- She finally filed for divorce after ten years with help from charity Oxfam
- Is now lobbying Yemeni parliament to crack down on child marriages
A Yemeni child bride who was forced to marry a violent husband three times her age when she was just 11 has spoken of the shocking sexual abuse she suffered at his hands for more than a decade.
Noora Al Shami was given away to a distant cousin in his 30s because her parents did not want her live in poverty.
As young girl, she was excited to be the centre of attention at a lavish three-day wedding party in the port city of Al Hudaydah where she was allowed to wear ‘three really beautiful dresses’ for each day.
But almost as soon as the celebrations had ended she was quickly thrust into a world of physical and psychological abuse from which she could not escape.
She told The Guardian: ‘It was at the end of the wedding that the fear and horror set in.
‘He was three times my age and saw marriage as a means to act like a depraved animal.’
She told how she ‘immediately began to quiver and cry’ when she was driven to the house her husband shared with his father.
When the clerical worker first took off his clothes, she ran away in terror and desperately avoided sex for 10 days.
And when she was eventually pressured into consummating the marriage, she said her body went into shock and she was rushed to hospital.
She described being ‘treated like a sex object’ but said no one was interested in helping her because she was ‘legally his wife’.
Noora, who is now 35, went on to have two miscarriages within a year before giving birth to a son, Ihab, when she was 13, a daughter, Ahlam, a year later and then another boy, Shibab, at the age of 15.
She said her husband ‘thought nothing of hitting me’ when she was pregnant and even attacked the children.
On one occasion, he banged two-year-old Ahlam on the floor by her feet forcing her to need hospital treatment for bleeding.
Eventually, a decade after her wedding in 1989, she sought refuge with a project run by Oxfam and the Yemei’s Women’s Union which helps victims of domestic violence.
She said: ‘I managed to get a lawyer and then filed for divorce. But after getting divorced, I faced a new reality.
‘Who would feed my three children and take care of my elderly parents? I had to find a job and worked as a maid while I was studying for my high school diploma. My neighbours used to harass me and say I was a bad woman for getting divorced.
‘As a Yemeni woman, I faced many challenges, but I had to stay strong and fight to improve my situation.
‘I started to tell people about the psychological and physical impact child marriage had upon me. I miscarried twice due to the abuse, and I was lucky to survive.’
‘Women shouldn’t have to be victims. I refuse to live under the ruins of my past’
Noora Al Shami
The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen and has attracted the attention of international rights groups seeking to pressure the government to raise the minimum age to 18.
Yemen’s poverty plays a role in hindering efforts to stamp out the practice of child marriage, as poor families find themselves unable to say no to ‘bride-prices’ for their daughters that can be worth hundreds of dollars.
More than a quarter of Yemen’s females marry before age 15, according to a report in 2010 by the Social Affairs Ministry.
Tribal custom also plays a role, including the belief that a young bride can be shaped into an obedient wife, bear more children and be kept away from temptation.
In September 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three days in labour to give birth, a local human rights organisation said.
Yemen once set 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but parliament annulled that law in the 1990s, saying parents should decide when a daughter marries.
Noora’s story also comes weeks after unconfirmed reports emerged that an eight-year-old child bride died of internal injuries on her wedding night.
The Yemeni girl called Rawan allegedly died after being forced into marrying a man five times her age, however recent reports have suggested she is still alive.
Noora, whose mother married at nine and was divorced a year later, is now lobbying the Sana’a parliament to bring in legislation to end the plight of child marriages.
She said: ‘During the dialogue, I had the opportunity to visit parliament to push for a law setting eighteen as a safe minimum age of marriage.
‘This law has been raised many times in Yemen, but has never been approved by the government. I’m currently lobbying to ensure the rights of women and children are included in the new constitution.
‘Many Yemeni women still lack understanding about their rights and entitlements, and even educated women are afraid to speak out. We need civil society organisations to carry out awareness campaigns about the impact of child marriage in rural and urban areas to empower women.
‘I want to make my voice heard and change the lives of women in Yemen. Women shouldn’t have to be victims. I suffered domestic violence but now I’m speaking out.
‘I refuse to live under the ruins of my past.’
PLIGHT OF THE CHILD BRIDES: FEARS THERE COULD BE 140 MILLION BY 2020
Following reports of the Rawan case, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, called on the Yemeni government to investigate and make arrests.
Days later, Yemen’s human rights minister has asked parliament to pass a law setting a minimum age for marriage.
The minimum age was 15 years old until the 1990s when the government overturned the law.
There are currently 57.5 million child brides across the world, 40 per cent of which married in India.
At this rate, the figure is expected to rise to 140 million by 2020.
It is a common custom among poorer families who rely on their daughter to help herself and the rest of the family to build their income.
In Yemen, more than a quarter of females marry before age 15, according to a report in 2010 by the Social Affairs Ministry.
In Africa, 42 per cent; Latin America and the Caribbean, 29 per cent.
In India, almost half the population (46 per cent) of girls are married by the time they reach 18, according to the National Family Health Survey-3.