Following are excerpts from a TV debate on child marriage in Yemen, which aired on BBC Arabic TV on March 24 and April 1, 2009:
March 24, 2009
TV host: Welcome, Nujoud. How old are you?
Nujoud: Ten years old.
TV host: Tell us your story. How did you get married?
Nujoud: My father married me off. I refused, because I was still at school, but my father told me I had to. Then my father married me off in the village.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi, member of the Human Rights Committee of the Yemenite Parliament: How old were you when you got married?
Nujoud: I wasn't even ten years old when I was married.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: So how old were you?
Nujoud: More than nine, less than ten.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why did you refuse to get married?
Nujoud: I didn't want to get married, because I wanted to finish school.
TV host: In what grade were you?
Nujoud: Second grade.
Nadia Al-Sqaf, editor-in-chief, Yemen Times: In junior high?
Nujoud: No, elementary school.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Did your sisters marry young?
Nujoud: No, my father married them all off when they were older.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: At what age?
Nujoud: Seventeen, eighteen.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: So why just you?
Nujoud: Don't know.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why did your father marry you off?
Nujoud: I don't know why.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: How old was your husband?
Nujoud: Thirty years old.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: If I wanted to marry my daughter off, is it good to marry her off at a young age?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why not?
Nujoud: She should finish her schooling, finish high school and university. When she's all grown up, you can marry her off.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Was there any problem in your marriage? Did your husband beat you, or was there a problem with... You could have finished your schooling while married, if your husband had allowed you to go to school.
Nujoud: I would have, but they didn't let me finish school.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: But what if they had said to you: "Fine, go to school"?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What if when you were married, your husband allowed you to go to school?
Nujoud: I wanted to go to school and demanded to be taken away from him [the husband].
Nadia Al-Sqaf: But you said you did this because you wanted to finish school, and that when you finish school, you would get married.
Nujoud: If I were a grown-up...
Nadia Al-Sqaf: But if your husband told you that you could finish school - what's wrong with that?
Nujoud: No, I want them to divorce me from him, so I can finish school.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: For how long did you stay in your husband's home?
Nujoud: Twelve days.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Where is it better – in the home of your husband or with your family?
Nujoud: In the home of my family.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why?
Nujoud: Because I have my mother, my father, and my whole family, and this is better.
TV host: Nujoud, how did you approach the court?
Nujoud: My mother's sister told me about the court. She said: "Go to court, and the judge will grant you a divorce." So I did.
TV host: Who helped you?
Nujoud: My aunt helped me go to court.
TV host: Did you have a lawyer when you went to court?
Nujoud: No, I went to the judge, and later, I met Shaza, the lawyer, by chance at court.
TV host: How long did it take for you to get the divorce?
Nujoud: Three days.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Three days at the judge's place?
Nujoud: Yes, at his home.
TV host: Are you happy, now that you got the divorce?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Nujoud, what advice would you have to girls... You had no choice when your father made you get married... Did you wear a wedding dress?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What did you wear?
Nujoud: They dressed me in regular clothes.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: There wasn't a wedding dress in your size?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What would you say to other girls from Yemen, or anywhere in the world, whose families force them to get married? What should they do?
Nujoud: I advise girls my age or younger to go to court and complain about their families, and the court will help them.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: That's after the marriage. What about beforehand?
Nujoud: They should go beforehand. They have heard about me, about Arwa, and about Rim. Now, everybody knows about this. The [families] should not marry them off when they are young. They should let them finish school.
TV host: Nujoud, what do you think about your father?
Nujoud: I forgave my father, because he is such a poor man, and I felt sorry for him.
TV host: Dr. Muqbil, do you want to ask her anything?
Dr. Amin Ali Muqbil, dean of religious law: Is this widespread beyond the [three] cases that you mentioned?
Nujoud: There were other cases, but they didn't go to court for help in getting a divorce.
Dr. Amin Ali Muqbil: Do you know of many other cases, apart from those three?
Nujoud: I know others, but they don't want to go [to court]. There are girls my age and younger, and I have talked to them, and told them they should go to court for help in getting a divorce, but they said they didn't want to get divorced.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Why?
Nujoud: God knows. These girls are still married, but they don't want to get divorced.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Are they afraid? Who are they afraid of?
Nujoud: Their families.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: What would they do?
Nujoud: God knows. One of them said she was afraid her father would beat her and scream at her.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: And you, weren't you afraid of your father?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Nujoud, what do you think of a father and a mother who... Okay, you've forgiven your own father, but what do you think of a father and a mother who marry off their daughter at the age of eight or nine?
Nujoud: They should be punished.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: How? What should we do to them?
Nujoud: They should be punished.
Shaza Nasser, Nujoud's lawyer: The mental state of Nujoud, Rim, and Arwa is one of depression and torment. Why aren't these parents punished? Now they are criticizing me for helping them. I brought this issue to the awareness of Arab and world public opinion.
We are all Muslims, and we adhere to our customs, but this is neither an Islamic nor a civic custom. It is a declaration of war on childhood and on humanity. What crime did Nujoud commit that she is forced to sleep with a 35-year-old man who demands the fulfillment of his marital rights, and carries out...
TV host: As far as you know, was there any intercourse?
Shaza Nasser: Of course. He slept with her against her will. Nujoud hated the night. She would scream and run from room to room. She asked his family for help. What did they do? They laughed. They would say to her: "It's nothing, go into the room with him." He would lock the door, force her to get undressed, and sleep with her.
Sheik Abd Al-Malk Hussein Al-Taj, head of the Development and Social Peace Research Center: Islamic law draws a distinction between two things: The permissibility of contractual marriage and the feasibility of childbirth. With regard to contractual marriage – it is not harmful in any way. Contractual marriage can be conducted even when the girl is one year old. Islamic law takes into account the damage that might be caused to the girl if she is wedded to the man to whom she was formally contracted. So she is not actually wedded to him until she is able to bear children. So there is no intercourse before she can bear children. That is the position of Islamic law.
TV host: Let's welcome Rim, a victim of the practice of early marriage. Hello, Rim. Tell us your story. What happened to you?
Rim: What happened was that my father was waiting for me outside the house. I was going down to the shop, and he took me to my grandfather's house, in order to marry me off.
TV host: Without any preparation? You didn't know anything about it?
Rim: No, I thought he was taking me to lunch.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: To lunch?
Rim: Yes, we were invited. He forced me into my grandfather's house.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: And the wedding was there?
Rim: Yes, but I didn't know that.
TV host: Was there a wedding celebration?
Rim: Yes, but against my will.
TV host: Did you wear a wedding gown?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: How old were you?
Rim: Twelve years old.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: But if you wore the wedding gown, it means you were happy about the wedding, right?
Rim: Yes, I was happy about the wedding, but later I wasn't anymore.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why were you happy at the beginning, but later...
Rim: Any girl would be happy about a wedding gown, but the problem is that I am still too young to be married.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: But what made you regret it afterwards?
Rim: I had to quit school, and besides, I am too young for this responsibility.
TV host: Did you agree at first?
Rim: I cried. I didn't agree.
TV host: So why were you happy about the wedding gown?
Rim: Even though I was crying, I was happy about the dress.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: So you were happy about the wedding, but when did you realize that you had gotten married?
Rim: When I left the place.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Where did you go?
Rim: When I left, I realized...
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Where did you go?
Rim: To my uncle's place.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: You mean your husband's place?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Did you marry your cousin?
Rim: That's right.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: How old is he?
Rim: He's 26 years old. Then I realized what had happened, and I cried.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What were you thinking about when you were walking to your uncle's?
Rim: What was I thinking?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What did you say to yourself?
Rim: I felt like a stranger there.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: How long did you stay with your husband?
Rim: Eleven days.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Did you know him beforehand?
Rim: Yes, I had been there.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Didn't you love him?
Rim: I didn't love him.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What made you sad when you got married and went to his place? What shocked you?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Did he beat you?
Rim: Yes, once.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Only once?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: What for?
Rim: For no reason.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: For no reason? He harassed you?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Was there anybody else in the house?
Rim: Just my cousins.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: And they knew that you had gotten married?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What did they call you? Bride?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Were they happy that you were there?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Do you have female cousins your age?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Are they older than you?
Rim: They are 20 years older than me.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Are they 20 years old, or 20 years older than you?
Rim: One is 36, another is 40.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Did other girls in the family get married at your age?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: As far as you know, the youngest to get married – how old was she?
Rim: I am the only one.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Why?
Rim: I don't know.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why did your father marry you off?
Rim: To spite my mother.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Just a second. Why?
Rim: To spite my mother.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Is your mother divorced?
Rim: They had a fight, and they separated.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: So they had disagreements, and they split up?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: When they got separated, he wanted to anger and upset your mother?
Rim: Yes. So he took me, and he would call her and ask: Did you or didn't you cry?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: So after he married you off, he called her to ask: Did you cry or not?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: So he was continuing to annoy her?
TV host: Rim, how did you get divorced?
Rim: I'm not divorced yet, but we agreed that each one would go his own way.
TV host: Who did you turn to? Who mediated in resolving this problem?
Rim: My father.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: The same father who married you off?
Rim: Yes. He took me back home, and we resolved it.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What did you do after those 11 days?
Rim: I pretended to be sick so they would get me out of there.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Where to?
Rim: My father's place.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: And what happened at your father's?
Rim: I went to sleep. I wanted to run away, but my father shut the door and I couldn't.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Where did you want to run away to?
Rim: To my mother's.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Where to?
Rim: My mother's.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: And then?
Rim: That was it.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: How did you get out? How did you escape?
Rim: The neighbors' daughter would shout at me. She's also married. She would pass on what I said to my mother. I asked her to tell my mother to go to the police and bring policemen to help me. My mother went to the police, and then, my father told me to go to the police and talk to them. I said okay, but at the police station I talked to the officer by myself, and I said I wanted to go to my mother's, and they took me home.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: What made your father first marry you off and then send you to complain to the police?
Rim: He didn't want me to complain that he had married me off. He wanted me to file a complaint against my husband.
TV host: Will there be a divorce, or not?
TV host: Did you reach an agreement about a divorce?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: When?
Rim: Within a day or two.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: And what if he doesn't divorce you?
Rim: I will commit suicide.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: You will do what?!
Rim: Commit suicide.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why do you want to commit suicide?
Rim: I've told them 20 times to grant me a divorce, but they don't listen.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: But there are other solutions, apart from suicide.
Rim: Like what?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why would you commit suicide? You are like a flower.
Rim: Assuming they do not agree...
Shuqi Al-Qadhi : They are bound to listen to you. Suicide is not a solution, Rim. Suicide is not a solution.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Does your father regret making you sad?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What does he say to you?
Rim: He came into my room, started crying, and said: "I'm sorry."
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Your father cried?
Rim: Yes. And he said he was sorry.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Do you think he regrets it?
Rim: Yes. I know he did it to spite my mother. Otherwise, he wouldn't have done it. He loves me.
TV host: Did this make you hate your father?
Rim: No girl hates her father.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: I don't mean now, after he cried and showed remorse, but when it all happened...
Rim: It didn't get to the point that I hated him.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: What did you feel towards your father?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Were you mad at him?
Rim: I was mad at him and didn't want anyone to mention his name around me, but I didn't hate him.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: You didn't want anyone to mention his name, but you didn't hate him.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: What's your advice to any girl who finds herself in your position, if her father all of a sudden takes her to be married? What would you advise her?
Rim: I advise the fathers not to marry their daughters off at such a young age.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: And what if the father does marry her off? What should she do?
TV host: Except for committing suicide.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: If there is a girl who watches this show, and she knows that her parents plan to marry her off, what should she do?
Rim: If she can, she should go to some family member, and tell him the story. Maybe he will take her to the court or the police station.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: In your view, what is the proper age for marriage?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Will you get married when you are twenty?
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Why maybe?
Rim: By now, I hate marriage altogether.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: You hate marriage, or you hate men?
Rim: I hate all men.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Except your father?
Nadia Al-Sqaf: And your brother?
Rim: All of them.
Dr. Amin Ali Muqbil: What were your reasons?
Anis Al-Numeiri, Rim's father: By Allah, there were no reasons. She's my daughter, and I married her off to my brother's son. They were brought up together, in the same house. There was no reason. I did this according to the Sunna of Allah and his Messenger. The Prophet Muhammad married 'Aisha when she was nine, and we follow the Sunna. It is very simple. There's nothing to it.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: Thank you, Anis. Thank you for your response. But do you think that this is an appropriate age to bear the responsibilities of marriage, intercourse, and raising children? Or was it something you did and later regretted?
Anis Al-Numeiri: I have no regrets. I married her of when she was 14 and seven months, and I have the marriage contract, authorized by the court.
Shuqi Al-Qadhi: But this contract does not prove her real age.
Nadia Al-Sqaf: Do you have her birth certificate?
Anis Al-Numeiri: We are Bedouin living in rural areas. We don't have such things.
TV host: She says she is 12 years old.
Anis Al-Numeiri: She was engaged to her cousin for three years.