Throngs of journalists pushed forward to get a picture of 12-year-old Sally al-Sabahi as she signed her divorce papers in the Yemeni capital on 27 March. As she dipped her thumb in dark ink and pressed it next to her name on an official document, she became Yemen’s fourth child bride divorcee.
IRIN reported on Sally’s story in February, when she was referred to as Aisha to protect her identity. She was 10 years old when her family married her off to an older man in exchange for a US$1,000 dowry. Within her first week of marriage, Sally began trying to escape the terrible treatment she said she received from her husband.
A few months later she succeeded in escaping but could not get a divorce, largely because her father did not have the money to pay back the dowry. On reading IRIN's article about Sally, several people came forward offering to contribute. One of them was Nalan Gungor Ozisik, who works as a lecturer at Stanford University in the US.
“I refuse to watch ignorance misrepresent Islam,” she said. “I hope that Sally can now get on with her childhood; since a happy childhood is the birthright of all children in the world.”
Photo: Annasofie Flamand/IRIN
|The moment 12-year-old Sally al-Sabahi signed her divorce papers in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. After the divorce she thanked all the people that made it possible|
Several women’s rights campaigners were present at the courthouse in Sanaa. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Belqes Ali al-Lahabi, a woman’s rights activist. “Sally’s divorce will help apply pressure on the government to pass the law of a minimum age for marriages in Yemen.”
Minimum age debated
Sally’s divorce comes after weeks of heated debates about a new law setting a minimum age for marriages at 17, which has polarised Yemen. (Read: Deep divisions over child brides). It was first accepted by a majority in parliament in February 2009, but was rejected by the Sharia Committee. Parliament is set to vote once again on the law in the near future.
According to the Washington DC-based International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), just under half all girls in Yemen marry under the age of 18, which the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child says is under age.
“I support the idea of setting a minimum age for marriage that is not less than 18 years old,” said Judge Mansour Ali Mohammed, who presided over Sally’s divorce. “When a man marries a child and they have children, then you end up with a child raising a child.”
During the divorce proceedings Sally sat quietly, only speaking to confirm her name and to accept the divorce. Afterwards she thanked all those who had made it possible “I have felt this dark cloud over my head for so long – now it’s gone. Thank you,” she said.