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It’s hard to imagine that there have been many younger divorcées — or braver ones — than a pint-size third grader named Nujood Ali.
Nujood is a Yemeni girl, and it’s no coincidence that Yemen abounds both in child brides and in terrorists (and now, thanks to Nujood, children who have been divorced). Societies that repress women tend to be prone to violence.
For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. Although Nujood’s mother was unhappy, she did not protest. “In our country it’s the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them,” Nujood writes in a powerful new autobiography just published in the United States this week, “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.”
Her new husband forced her to drop out of school (she was in the second grade) because a married woman shouldn’t be a student. At her wedding, Nujood sat in the corner, her face swollen from crying.
Nujood’s father asked the husband not to touch her until a year after she had had her first menstrual period. But as soon as they were married, she writes, her husband forced himself on her.
He soon began to beat her as well, the memoir says, and her new mother-in-law offered no sympathy. “Hit her even harder,” the mother-in-law would tell her son.
Nujood had heard that judges could grant divorces, so one day she sneaked away, jumped into a taxi and asked to go to the courthouse.
“I want to talk to the judge,” the book quotes Nujood as forlornly telling a woman in the courthouse.
“Which judge are you looking for?”
“I just want to speak to a judge, that’s all.”
“But there are lots of judges in this courthouse.”
“Take me to a judge — it doesn’t matter which one!”
When she finally encountered a judge, Nujood declared firmly: “I want a divorce!”
Yemeni journalists turned Nujood into a cause célèbre, and she eventually won her divorce. The publicity inspired others, including an 8-year-old Saudi girl married to a man in his 50s, to seek annulments and divorces.