SANAA – Forced into marriage when she was only 13, Saadah is now back in her impoverished Yemeni family’s cramped home with two children, little money and dreams of returning to school.
“I don’t want a husband ever again. All I want is to get a divorce and study,” Saadah says as she sits in the small room she shares with her two boys, dark circles shading her weary eyes. “Child brides,” or “death brides” as they are sometimes called, are quite common in poor, tribal Yemen, where barely pubescent girls are forced into marriage, often to much older men.
Saadah’s ill father, no longer able to sustain his family, married her off five years ago in an attempt to spare her from her family’s poverty. But her husband soon began forcing her to beg on the capital’s streets with her boys until she fled back to her parents’ home. “He would beat and verbally abuse me and my family,” says Saadah, now 18, whose name means happiness in Arabic.
She is dressed in black from head to toe, but there are still traces of fading orange henna on the fingernails of her fidgety hands. Her two boys, aged three and four, look on as she recounts the nightmare of her marriage. “My life is difficult with my parents, as we rely on small amounts of aid from our neighbours to survive. But this is still better than living with my husband,” Saadah says. Her 16-year-old sister Amnah was also forced to marry, and wed a man who agreed to pay her father’s 20,000 riyals ($93) worth of debt three years ago.