A video, posted on YouTube, shows an 11-year-old Yemeni girl called Nada al-Ahdal recounting how she escaped her parents who wanted to force her to marry. Nada comes from a modest family and is one of eight siblings. Fortunately for her, her uncle Abdel Salam al-Ahdal, a montage and graphics technician in a TV station, decided to take her in when she was three years old, to live with him and his aging mother, away from her parents.
Nada was not an only child at home. Her uncle had also taken his other nephew under his wing, as the boy’s own father couldn’t afford his son’s medical requirements. Abdel Salam was thus responsible for bringing up two children. He personally took care of keeping them, and his frail mother, clean and well-fed.
“‘I want to say to fathers and mother, ‘let us realize our dreams, do not kill them’.”
Nada grew up in this caring environment, went to school, and learned English during the summer vacation. She has her own Facebook page, was a gifted singer, and took part in musicals. However, her happiness was cut short when someone came to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. The man, a Yemeni expatriate living in Saudi Arabia, did not care about the girl’s age. Her parents were happy because the prospective groom worked abroad and was rich.
Abdel Salam tells NOW: “When I heard about the groom, I panicked. Nada was not even 11 years old; she was exactly 10 years and 3 months. I could not allow her to be married off and have her future destroyed, especially since her aunt was forced to marry at 13 and burnt herself. I did all I could to prevent that marriage. I called the groom and told him Nada was no good for him. I told him she did not wear the veil and he asked if things were going to remain like that. I said ‘yes, and I agree because she chose it.’ I also told him that she liked singing and asked if he would remain engaged to her.”
The groom recanted the engagement and told the girl’s parents he did not want their daughter anymore. Nada’s parents, looking forward to a hefty bride price, were disappointed.
Nada had an 18 year-old sister who had been engaged many times. Her parents accepted each new proposal and took a partial downpayment for a bride price. They would then postpone the marriage until the groom had enough money, eventually ending each engagement, not returning the money. The same story would start all over again with another suitor, and so it was that she had had nine fiancés.
After Abdel Salam succeeded in warding off Nada’s first husband-to-be, her parents came from Zubaid on a visit to Sana’a and asked for their daughter to stay with them until mid-Ramadan. Abdel Salam agreed only to learn from the parents days later that Nada had disappeared.
At one point Nada escaped and tried to return to her uncle. When she got back to Sana’a, she was scared he would take her back to her mother. He found out afterwards that Nada’s mother wanted to marry her off again but did not tell him as she feared he would “scare away” the suitor as he had done the first time around.
Abdel Salam took Nada and went to the Ministry of the Interior’s family protection department. He explained to them what had happened and they carried out investigations with Nada, her uncle, and her parents. They discovered that there had been no kidnapping and that the parents wanted to marry their daughter against her will. The case ended with Nada’s father apologizing for fear of being sentenced for wrongful accusations and saying that he trusted his brother with bringing up his daughter.
In a message sent to NOW, Nada addressed every mother and father seeking to marry off their daughters, saying: “I am a child and I want to realize my dreams. My aunt was forced to get married so she burned herself to death, and I saw pictures of her with burns. Let me realize my dream. I want to go to school, become a star, and help other children. I am not thinking about marriage, I don’t want to now. I want to say to fathers and mother, ‘let us realize our dreams, do not kill them’.”