Get our free emagazine!

Married at Age 10, Reem Al Numery Speaks Out

"When I tried to get a divorce they said I couldn’t, that I was too young."

She was just 10 years old when she was married to a cousin who was three times her age. Now Reem Al Numery is divorced and fighting against child marriage.

I was a little girl. I was not fit for marriage, but I was poor.

Reem Al-Numery

The medals from her many awards hang on the walls of her home as Reem Al Numery takes our international call with a grace and maturity rare for someone her age. She’s just 12 years old, but she’s already been married and divorced.

Reem was playing in the street of her Yemen neighborhood just a few months after her 10th birthday when a cousin three times her age took her to her grandfather’s house and immediately married her. Though her mother objected to the union, her father consented.

“I was a little girl,” Reem explained with the help of a translator. “I was not fit for marriage, but I was poor.”

According to a 2001 UNICEF report, in many parts of the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, economic factors mean that the marriage of young children, mostly girls, is an all too common practice. That same report says that 17% of girls age 15 to 19 in Reem’s home country of Yemen were married in 2004.

Yet Reem’s story has one key difference from that of many of her peers who also marry young: She successfully negotiated her divorce.

After only one week of marriage, Reem knew she had to escape, alleging that her new husband beat and shackled her just to get her into the taxi to bring her home after the wedding.

But divorcing as a child bride would prove more difficult than marrying.

“When I tried to get a divorce they said I couldn’t, that I was too young, and I said, ‘How come you didn’t say I was too young to get married?’”

It would take two years of legal battles, but Reem, with the help of her lawyer Shada Nasser, the international media, and a high-placed government official, convinced the judge to grant her a divorce.

Shada Nasser had experience in child marriage cases. She represented another girl, Nujood Ali, in her divorce case in 2008. Like Reem, Nujood was forced to marry when she was only 10 and ran away from the husband she says abused her.

Both Reem and Nujood’s cases received significant media attention in Yemen and around the world. Reem was one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2009, the same year she was named an International Woman of Courage by the US State Department. Nujood was one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year in 2008, and she’s recently co-authored the book I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced with a French journalist. Both girls are considered activists against early marriage.

But both girls cite increasing frustration following their international successes. Before her book was released and royalties helped ease her family’s financial situation, CNN interviewed

Nujood for an article and reported that she was “bitter,” longing to return to school, and frustrated that the international media attention hadn’t translated into financial help for her family.

Reem is similarly upset by the aftermath of her court case. She has been unable to attend school because she cannot afford transportation fees. She told us she desperately wants to study English and eventually become a doctor.

“I am so frustrated,” she said. “I see girls who are able to study and able to speak English and I am not. I would like for someone to help me.”

But there’s one form of help she isn’t interested in—a new husband. “I don’t want to go through the same ordeal again,” she adds. “I won’t think about marriage until I’ve finished school, so I can make a future for myself.”

If there is a silver lining to Reem and Nujood’s cases, it’s that Yemen has increased the legal age for marriage to 17.

Reem believes that politicians have done all they can to prevent child marriage and it’s now the responsibility of fathers and would-be husbands. She advises families to delay marriage and girls to stay in school.

“Marriage is a responsibility,” she said. “And girls need to first live their childhoods.”

Comments

Rebecca Roberts's picture

Great article

Thanks for sharing this brave young woman's story. I'm sitting here with my 10-year-old niece, who can't imagine a world in which these economic trades in human lives (we can't call them "relationships") are possible. I just returned from living in a rural North African society where, while becoming ever more rare, child marriage does still happen. Thanks to brave girls like Reem for standing up for their rights, and for the NGOs and journalists who help them in their cause.

Nusrat Ara's picture

A sad story . I hope it has a

A sad story . I hope it has a happy ending.

Nusrat

usha kc's picture

So touching story but this

So touching story but this story represent many others story in many part of the world too. Religion,patriarchial norms-values most of the time makes our sisters,friends so cry n cry, to stop all these, we most make our voice so strong !!!

Lets be united to change the world!!!!!!

Starland's picture

What is the price of a girl child?

There is no sale price. She is love, beauty, the world's future in growing action. To sell, barter, agreed to a child marriage is a crime against life, against happiness, against potential.

The price of a girl child free to grow and learn in love and encouragement is in one word-- priceless.

Thank you for this story. So proud of those brave young girls!

K-lee

K-lee Starland, Ph.D.

pawani_rasmus's picture

hey i really like what you

hey i really like what you have written. so beautiful;

kiraldogoi's picture

It's a sad one story . And

It's a sad one story . And can't be changed.www.marriagematerial.org

gritona's picture

Child Brides

Reem and Najood are two very courageous girls, and we are very much in their debt, And Shada Nasser is also a hero.

Also, Usha is quite right to remind us of how big this problem is in the world, and in identifying religion, patriarchs and cultural norms among those responsible.

There are far too many of our sisters made to suffer too much abuse- child trafficking, obstetric fistulas, FGM to mention a few. And yes we must be united to stop it

pauli siemering

zainab A. B's picture

so sad

Actually she is so brilliant to ask for the Divorce and so obedient to her parent, for the marriage, thanks to Allah & the Lawyer who help in the case.

Things like this happen in many parts of the country were poverty exist, but this is a total child abuse case. Women has to stand up for there right. Mothers, Sisters Aunties in the family should say No to it, this will help, it should be practically don at home first.

zainab

Bissalam
Zainab Ahmed

imanigurl01's picture

Reem & Najood, "You Go Girls" !!!!!

Hi Reem & Najood,

This is an amazing story of triumph over well-ingrained cultural values and traditions to be followed by young girls. Reem and Najood somehow knew that they deserved more in their young lives, and courageously went against all odds, in regaining their sense of autonomy.

The attorney handling Reem's divorce is also to be commended. In Yemen, where patriarchal mindset and rule is great, an outspoken, educated and independent woman risks quite a lot in facilitating such an act.

Reem's story was very encouraging, and proof that, as the adage goes, "Where there is a WILL, there is a WAY".

In Sisterhood,

Imanigurl01!

Imanigurl01

pawani_rasmus's picture

so tragic, i really hope

so tragic, i really hope these girls win in their battles. it's a really encouraging story for all of us to stand up against the injustice we women face almost everyday

pm
student

Zuhal Ahmed's picture

I have heard this story at

I have heard this story at some of internet sites and I was deeply saddened by what is happening to the children all over the world, what was happened to Reem is not accepted even by God and the communities concerned with the rights of the child, I do believe what has happened to this child is not considered marriage, this just a kind of public rape. I hope to stop this violence against children and women

With warm wishes for a bright future in the next life Reem

Zuhal
Sudan/South Darfur State

Zuhal Ahmed
Norwegian Chuch Aid
South and West Darfur
skype: Zuhal Ahmed Abakar Fadl

miriam's picture

Fight child abuse!

Forcing kids into marriage at such a young age is almost unforgivable. I pray that the Yemen government will increase further the legal age for marriage at least to 25. It's amazing that there are still people fighting for it although they also have their own crosses to carry. Everyone can help to stop this kind of violence in every little way. I'm with this kid in her cause. My prayers are for them. Thanks for sharing the story as I wasn't fully aware of such incidents.

miriam's picture

Fight child abuse!

Forcing kids into marriage at such a young age is almost unforgivable. I pray that the Yemen government will increase further the legal age for marriage at least to 25. It's amazing that there are still people fighting for it although they also have their own crosses to carry. Everyone can help to stop this kind of violence in every little way. I'm with this kid in her cause. My prayers are for them. Thanks for sharing the story as I wasn't fully aware of such incidents.

anyango's picture

That the Power we have

Let communities learn to give children a chance to live and enjoy their childhood! What is the hurry. I admire the personality of this wonderful girl.

PROUD TO BE GIRLS

sreymom's picture

This story is so sad

This story is so sad

Uloma ahanonu's picture

this is called child abuse

how can a child of 10 years old get marred when she suppose to be in school learning how to read and write and planing for her future, that is called child abuse, that man should be funished and flogged.

ashley.m.turner's picture

Good for her!

Thank you for sharing her story. I am so proud of her to stand up for what she believes in! More women need to feel that they have the power to speak their mind. To be able to do this without being beaten, raped, or punished, they have to feel that they have the support they need from their families, their communities, and their governments. I don't feel that there can be an age limit put on marriage. Just like her in the United States you can be married anytime if that's what you want and your parents are willing to agree with. However, the economical factors that these women are enduring, is life or death. I hope that women and men continue to come together to find happiness rather than economical gain. Happiness does not have a price tag attached to it.

emknits14's picture

Oh, my,

As a devoted reader of new moon girls, and a young girl myself, I want to help. I must know where to go and raise awareness. Please help.

karaN's picture

Inspirational

This story truly serves as inspiration for not only young women, but the international community as a whole. She is such an amazing girl; I hope we all can have her strength in our lives to do what is right.

cece's picture

Grateful

I am grateful to you for sharing your story...I just can't imagine my daughter being put into this situation, it tugged at my heart reading this. I am glad to know someone is out there trying to get this word out about making a change. You are an amazing person!

We are blessed to have many Sisters!

Cece

O Praise's picture

powerful woman

thanks for sharing such great story. thank you lady for being such a powerful woman

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Inside Congo's Growing Sisterhood

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

PAKISTAN: They Went to School and Never Came Back

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative