Twelve years of age are not enough to feel a woman, nor to be one. Twelve years are not enough to die. It was the age of Rubina, a Pakistani girl who had been married for a month and a half to a man who was much older. A year ago she hung herself in her parents’ bathroom, becoming thus the symbol of the Terres des Hommes‘ campaign “defenceless”. The Yemeni writer Khadija Al-Salami – who was to become the first woman director in her own country – was even younger (8 year old) when her family forced her to marry a violent man. He was twenty years older and beat her up on a regular basis. About her own story, which is shared by millions of girls around the world, she wrote and directed a film, “I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced”. It was presented this summer at the Institute of the Arab world, in Paris, and at the festival in Dubai.
“Every time the sun goes down, you ask yourself whether you can survive yet another night of violence,” said Khadjia during a press conference at the presentation. Truth to be told, the story is about the experience of Noojom Ali (the name was changed on the occasion of the film, Nujood Ali, which means “wizard”, to assume the new meaning of “star in the sky”), the youngest divorced known to the world. In 2008, at the age of 10 she got divorced from a 40-year-old taskmaster to whom she had been married for 2 years. But, above all, Khadjia’s movie is autobiographical, it is a ‘mirror-film’. The director, along with the mother, a wife-doll at the age of eight as well, are its main characters.
Khadjia relates in an interview for “Vanity Fair”, on the occasion of her feature film’s release: “I was on the verge of suicide. And I would have certainly killed myself if my husband, who got tired of what he considered to be an unacceptable behaviour, had not returned me to my family. Virtually, he accused them of having cheated about the quality of the goods, as if I were a defective appliance”.
Thus, after three weeks of nightmarish marriage, Khadija was saved. Rawan, her little compatriot, an 8-year-old bride as well, was less fortunate. A year ago, she died bleeding out due to internal lacerations caused to her during her first wedding night, with no honey. A few months earlier, in Siirt, South-Eastern Anatolia, Kader committed suicide. She was only thirteen and a few days earlier she had given birth to her second son in two years of marriage who died prematurely. She was forced to marry a much older man, as of Turkish traditions and those of other Muslim countries.
According to the main Turkish newspaper Hürryiet, there are over 180 thousand girls forced to marry adult men in the country. In Kader’s region, child wives represent more than 40 percent. And 82 percent are illiterate.
The tragedy of those girls is a terrible slap in the face of the civilization that promotes human rights, especially in the face of children’s rights. Despite the numerous conventions, international documents and national laws prohibit the marriage of minors under eighteen years of age without their free consent, from the study conducted by the UNICEF research center “Innocent” on the subject of “early marriage”, comes out that weddings in adolescence or even in the age of puberty are very frequent in some countries, not only Muslim. Especially in the Middle East , in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia, but also in Latin America and in the States of Oceania, such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands, and even in Europe, Albania, Macedonia, and among Roma people.
Every year, over 14 million girls around the world are forced to marry. In Ethiopia and other West-African countries, as well as in India, are frequent forced weddings of girls under eight years of age. In Pakistan, at the age of five years, girls are considered ready for marriage and educated to be submissive to men. In Rajasthan, marriage age drops to three years.
And violence on “disobedient” wives, to the point of murdering them, is legitimate. Young “fugitive” brides who attempt to flee to their parents’ house, are returned by their own families to their husbands and punished or even killed. “Honour crimes” are allowed by law in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Bangladesh, and others. It is a slap in the face of women’s dignity.
Early marriages have a serious impact on the psycho-physical, intellectual, emotional, affective, and biological health of the little, defenseless brides, whose risks are often connected to the dangers and consequences of premature pregnancies, as it happened to Kader. Mortality among child-mothers who give birth before the age of 16 is six times higher than death due to childbirth after 20. Almost 90 percent of the child-mothers suffer from vaginal fistulas. Besides, pregnancy in pre-adolescence is, in many countries, the first cause of infant mortality.
Away from media attention, the deaths of child brides, by suicide or due to their husbands’ violence, because of premature childbirth or due to diseases resulting from precocious marriage, which in some cases occur on the first wedding night, as it happened to Rawan, are almost never reported in the news.
“What needs to be changed, are society’s principles. When people practice barbarity, they becomes barbarians” -, says the Yemeni director, now married to a French veterinarian and who confessed not to want children because of her childhood memories that are ”too bulky”. Also those who tolerate barbarism in silence are barbarians.