March 28, 2009
2009 International Women of Courage Awardee
(State Department website – emphasis added)
Reem Al Numery, Yemen
“I thought of ways to set fire to my wedding dress.”
In June 2008, at the start of her school vacation, 12-year-old Reem Al Numery 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 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.”
Reem is part of a recent cadre of young Yemeni girls who have defied their families and threats of violence to stand up for their rights. The legal age of consent for girls to marry in Yemen was recently raised to 17, but a combination of tradition and widespread poverty ensure that younger girls are often forced into matrimony in order to relieve economic pressure on their families. Customary practice dictates that the girls’ grooms wait until their bride is post-pubescent to consummate the marriage. [Why get married then?] This was not the case for Reem. She described to BBC reporters how her husband raped her: when she resisted sex, he choked and bit her and dragged her by the hair, overwhelming her by force.
The activism of Yemeni pre-teens sold into wedlock began with Nujood Al Ahdel, (Nujood Ali) another courageous child, who, at the age of ten, walked out of her forced marriage and successfully initiated divorce proceedings. Her inspiring story focused international attention on the plight of child brides.
Reem Al Numery shares the same lawyer and same circumstances with Nujood Al Ahdel, but faces additional obstacles. Reem’s father will not consent to her divorce, leading the judge to decree that, because she is a minor, she must remain married until she can make her own decisions at age 15. Reem’s lawyer is appealing the verdict, and Reem is currently living with her mother.
Since she is still legally married and since Yemeni law has no provisions for sexual abuse charges within a marriage, this 12-year-old is still at the mercy of her husband and her father. “My dad said he’ll kill me for defying him,” Reem told reporters in August 2008, “but I want to go back to school.”
“She told me that she wants to live a normal life, like any other girl her age, and I am afraid that is not possible yet,” Reem’s lawyer told the Yemen Times. “Sometimes she just wants to play and enjoy life like a young girl, and other times she is talking about things like a mature woman who has been married for long. This marriage experience has made her neither a girl nor a woman.”
Yemeni judges, hesitant to grant divorces to pre-teens, have been exposed to international pressure by the cases brought by Al Ahdel and other girls. The personal bravery of Reem Al Numery expands that focus to more complex and difficult cases of enduring paternal complicity, and challenges the Yemeni legal system to put an unequivocal end to this crime that robs girls of their childhood.
She is married – sold basically to her cousin. The age of consent is 17 and yet she is 12. And even though she is married – she is a minor and unable to make decisions until age 15. So by the judge’s own decree she has never had legal consent to anything – marriage and rape included.
No provisions in Yemeni law for marital rape.
How can these arab savages expect the West to take them seriously?
2009 International Woman of Courage:
Wazhma Frogh, Afghanistan
Mutabar Tadjibayeva, Uzbekistan
Norma Cruz, Guatemala
Suaad Abbas Salman Allami, Iraq
Reem Al Numery, Yemen
Veronika Marchenko, Russia
Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia
Hadizatou Mani, Niger