TheBlaze reported last week about a video that had gone viral of an 11-year-old Yemeni runaway pleading with her parents not to force her into an underage marriage. Since her recording became public – with more than 8 million people having viewed the English subtitled version alone – Nada Al-Ahdal has faced death threats from Islamists, has moved into a women’s shelter for her protection and has had an on-camera confrontation with her parents who say the girl’s story is false.
“I’m better off dead. I’d rather die,” the girl said at the time, accusing her parents of plotting to marry her off for financial profit, a common practice in a country filled with child brides.
This week, a CNN crew visited Nada in the Yemeni capital Sana’a and found an emotional family drama that played out while the camera was rolling.
The network reports that Yemen's interior ministry appointed President of the Yemen Women's Union Ramzia Al-Eryani as her temporary legal guardian until the dispute with her family could be settled.
CNN describes the family drama as beginning when Al-Eryani took Nada’s parents and her uncle aside, saying: "If you love her, save her childhood. ... You all are adults -- you all know what's best for her -- but we need to protect this child.”
A reflection of the conservative society, both the girl’s parents and the women’s rights activist are seen in CNN’s report dressed in traditional Yemeni and Muslim garb, with Al-Eryani’s head covered in a hijab and wearing long sleeves in the middle of the summer and the mother covered from head to toe in a black burqa with only her eyes showing.
Nada then entered the room and was asked if her story was made up.
In tears, Nada asked the mediator Al-Eryani, "Why do you believe them and don't believe me?"
"I don't care about what's best for the mom or dad or uncle," Al-Eryani told CNN, "just what's best for the girl."
Nada is now facing death threats from hardline Islamists concerned her case will push forward legislation to criminalize child marriage.
In a telephone interview with Al-Hurra TV translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), her uncle, Abd Al-Salam Al-Ahdal, said that Islamist groups connected to the Muslim Brotherhood "want Nada to disappear, along with the entire problem."
“They have threatened Nada and me more than once. They told us that our lives were in danger and that we would end up in prison,” he added.
As a result, Nada had moved into a women’s shelter for her protection. "I hope that Nada receives protection or that she leaves Yemen temporarily, until this crisis calms down," her uncle said. While CNN reported that she had moved into a shelter, the network did not mention that Islamists had threatened her.
It’s unclear if the girl or her parents are telling the truth. What we can report is that child marriage is a real issue in Yemen, where according to Human Rights Watch more than half of all girls are married before age 18.
Al Jazeera reports that two Yemeni human rights groups “involved in the case” Seyaj and the Yemeni Women Union say part of Nada’s story is false. Al Jazeera reports that both groups say the family had been approached about a suitor for the girl and had refused.
But Yemeni children’s television personality Ziad Abdul-Jabbar who according to Al Jazeera recorded and uploaded the video of Nada insists that the girl’s account is true. He knows her, because she regularly appears on his program, which explains her confident, on-camera presence.
Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, tells CNN, "The consequences of child marriage are devastating and long-lasting -- girls are removed from school, their education permanently disrupted, and many suffer chronic health problems as a result of having too many children too soon…It is critical that Yemen takes immediate and concrete steps to protect girls from these abuses, including setting a minimum age of marriage."
Yemeni journalist Hind Aleryani tells CNN that child marriage is more common in poorer communities in Yemen. "There is a proverb, a Yemeni saying: 'Marry an 8-year-old girl, she's guaranteed,' which means the 8-year-old girl is surely a virgin. It's a disgusting saying and inhumane, but it's said by everyone and it's very well-known," Aleryani says.
In CNN’s report, Nada tells her parents that what she mostly wants is to stay in the capital city and get a better education.
“In the countryside, there's no English classes, there's no computer classes…please let me stay in Sanaa and study here,” she said.
CNN reports that at the end of the meeting, her parents and uncle decided they would move in together into another relative’s house in Sana’a to try to work out the issue. The adults are seen signing and fingerprinting a document committing to the agreement.
Here is CNN’s video report: