Divorce can be very traumatic, but so can marriage especially if you are a young child. And although divorce is always very painful, in this case it was a welcome act. Sally al-Sabahi was only 10-years-old when her family sold her to an older man for a dowry of $1,000.00. I refuse to say they ‘married her off’, because the exchange of money for a child, dowry or not, is like selling a goat or a cow. It was for commerce, not love, at least from the child’s perspective. From the older man’s perspective it had to be some kind of perverted lust, because what man would find a 10-year-old child attractive, either physically, emotionally or intellectually, if it were not for some perverse desire to bed a child.
Suffering abuse at the hands of her new ‘husband’, Sally tried to escape her intolerable life after only one week of living with the man. She was finally able to escape after several months but was left in a quandary when she was unable to divorce him: dowries have to be paid back and her father had no means of repaying.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), wrote about her plight back in February when she was still referred to as ‘Aisha’, and as a result several good Samaritans offered to help out. A professor at Stanford University, Nalan Gungor Ozisik, was one of those guardian angels who felt compelled to right the wrong.
“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.”
So, after weeks of wrangling, little Sally finally got her divorce.
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 Sunday. 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.
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.”
Even as women’s rights activists, and others, have been have been pushing for a law that stipulates 17 as the minimum age for marrying in Yemen, there were recent demonstrations of mostly women protesting against it. Mothers who obviously feel they have the right to sell or pimp out their daughters in marriage for money. It has also been condemned by the Sharia Committee that obviously feels pedophilia is cool. The government is again set to vote on the bill.
The percentage of young girls that are married is astounding. International Centre for Research on women (ICRW) estimates that almost 50 percent of them are under 18. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of a child, any girl under 18 is considered underage.
“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.”
After the divorce Sally thanked everyone who helped: “I have felt this dark cloud over my head for so long – now it’s gone. Thank you.”
Let’s hope the dark cloud is gone forever, but there is no mention of what will happen to Sally now that she is divorced. If she goes home, who’s to say her parents won’t sell her off again? And unless it becomes illegal to marry off girls under 18, the practice will more than likely continue, and how many more Sally’s will have to suffer? She was one of four child divorces, what about all the young one’s who did not have Sally’s courage who are suffering in silence?