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A sk Noora Al Shami about her wedding day and she remembers the childish delight of an year-old girl playing at being an adult. She was thrilled at friends and family gathering for a three-day party in the Yemeni port city of Al Hudaydah, miles west of the capital city of Sana'a. There were traditional singers and dancers, with one musician performing love songs to the backing of a traditional oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument.
Food including spiced lamb and rice was plentiful, and the little girl wore "three really beautiful dresses" — two green and one white — for each day of the celebrations. The assailant was Mohammed Al Ahdam, a distant cousin who was well into his 30s when he married Noora in , just after her 11th birthday. Earlier this month she visited the Sana'a parliament, and called for "awareness campaigns" across the country in front of elected officials. Child marriages are scandalously common in Yemen.
The motivation among impoverished families is to get rid of a mouth to feed at an early age, and to replace it with a possible share in a generous dowry. Physical and psychological problems last a lifetime, however, and recently there have been unconfirmed reports of an eight-year-old bride dying from her injuries on her wedding night. That has led to calls for the legal age of marriage to be raised from 15 to But even if the law was changed, there is no minimum age for marriage in Islamic law, and Yemeni clerics regularly argue against legal restrictions.
She had me in her early teens. They did not want me to live in poverty forever. I did not understand their decision to marry me off — only that the same thing happened to most girls my age. But it was at the end of the wedding that the fear and horror set in. I was taken away from my parents and left with a man who meant nothing to me.
He drove me to the house he shared with his widowed father in Al Hudaydah. It was a nice home but I immediately started to quiver, and to cry. When Al Ahdam, a clerical worker in the city's Red Sea port, took his clothes off in front of Noora for the first time, she ran away. She avoided sex for 10 days, before being told by Al Ahdam's sisters that she was "bringing shame on our brother by rejecting him". After succumbing to Al Ahdam's advances for the first time, Noora's body went into shock.