Catherine Shakdam
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on : Sunday, 28 Jul, 2013
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A Deception Comes Undone

A misguided protest against child marriage in Yemen turns into another form of exploitation

KHALEEJ blog: Our bloggers dive for pearls of wisdom on the Arabian Peninsula. ‘Khaleej’ follows the economic, political and social trends in this fast-developing promontory of the Arab World.

Screen grab from a YouTube video showing Nada Al-Ahdal.

Screen grab from a YouTube video showing Nada Al-Ahdal.

On July 8, the media was taken by storm when Nada Al-Ahdal, an 11-year-old schoolgirl from Yemen confessed on video that she had run away from her parents’ home to escape the horrors of a forced marriage.

Plagued by unrest, poverty and deep social divisions, Yemen, the most populous and poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has battled issues related to child marriages for well over a decade. Activists are working tirelessly toward the establishment of legislation that would ensure children’s protection and still fall in line with clerical interpretation of the Holy Scriptures on marriage and consent.

Needless to say, Nada’s bold testimony hit a nerve, sending shockwaves across Yemen’s human rights circles and the media, as once again the country found itself caught in a storm of controversy.

Within days of the uploading of her video, Nada’s story had gone viral. At time of writing, her YouTube video has been viewed 7,772,156 times. News organizations across the world vilified her parents for having attempted to sell their little girl to a man who was willing to stoop so low he would consider a marital union with a child. Her uncle, Abdel Salam Al-Ahdal, a montage and graphics technician at a TV station, was held up as a hero for having offered Nada a safe haven in his home, away from harm and abuse.

In the video, translated by MEMRI, a Middle East media watchdog, Nada talks of her escape from her parents’ home after they tried to marry her to a much older man. She said: “I can’t live with them anymore. Enough! . . . What about the innocence of childhood? What have the children done wrong? Why do you marry them off like that?”

Recalling how her 14-year-old aunt endured a year of abuse at the hands of her older husband before she was driven to suicide, Nada defiantly warned she would never let herself become another statistic on child marriage.

“My mother, my family, believe me when I say: I’m done with you, you’ve ruined my dreams,” she declared, decrying the threats her parents made against her person if she resisted their decision.

In truth, child marriage is a very serious issue indeed—one which deserves and requires much attention because it involves a harrowing and despicable form of abuse. Any allegation or report of such abuse should be treated with care and diligence, so as not to allow false reports to trivialize the issue.

Too busy reporting on a trend very few news organizations previously thought to investigate, many forgot to do any fact-checking on Nada’s allegations. As it turned out, they should have.

Alerted by Seyaj—Yemen’s most prominent children’s rights organization—the authorities immediately assigned a task force to investigate the claims of child abuse, not willing to take Nada’ statement at face value.

The interior ministry confirmed that its preliminary investigation has established that, contrary to her claims, Nada had never approached the authorities with regard to her abuse.

Moreover, for the past 18 months, Nada has been living with her paternal uncle, Abdel Salam Al-Ahdal. She never ran away to his house, as she stated in the video—she was already under his care.

Most disturbingly yet, Seyaj says its investigations indicate that Nada had been coerced by her uncle into making the video as part of a scam to turn the young school girl into Yemen’s new Nujood, gain fame and make a profit. Nujood was a young girl who rose to fame in 2008 when, at the age of 8, she bravely refused to tolerate abuse from her husband and asked a judge to grant her a divorce.

Well-versed in the way the media operates, Nada’s uncle sought to cash in on his niece’s fabricated plight, hoping she would become the country’s new poster child against child marriage.

Now in the care of the Yemen Women’s Union, the authorities are looking to transfer Nada back into her parents’ custody, away from the prying eye of the media.

Ramizia Al-Eryani, the president of the Yemen Women’s Union said that Nada had been pressed to falsely accuse her parents. She said she was angry with the media, as their irresponsible reporting would harm real victims of abuse by raising some questions over the veracity of others’ claims. She worried that it would not only empower abusers, but potentially prevent victims from coming forward out of fear of both the media and social stigma.

Seyaj issued the following statement on Thursday: “Nada’s claims that she was to be married are not real. Nada tried to exploit the public’s opinion for personal and financial gain, hoping that, like Nujood before her, her story would grant her status. Nada is not a victim of child marriage!”

Officials from the interior ministry also categorically rejected Nada’s claims, declaring that the evidence points to the same conclusion: Nada lied.

Catherine Shakdam

Catherine Shakdam

Catherine Shakdam is the managing director of Access Media, as well as a political risk analyst for Wikistrat and a blogger for the Russian International Affairs Council.

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18 Comments

  1. [...] story is available from here (opens in a new [...]

  2. [...] A misguided protest against child marriage in Yemen turns into another form of exploitation [...]

  3. [...] A misguided protest against child marriage in Yemen turns into another form of exploitation [...]

  4. [...] A misguided protest against child marriage in Yemen turns into another form of exploitation [...]

  5. [...] Early last month, yet another video was diagnosed as ‘viral’, and just this week it has developed a new level of controversy. Seen in the video below, an 11-year-old Yemeni girl called Nada Al-Ahdal gives an impassioned and intelligent speech about the corruption of arranged marriage, and talks about how she has fled home to live with her uncle. Only, none of that happens to be true. [...]

  6. Sierraman says:

    I’m a Muslim and strongly believe and endorse that in our day and age anyone who forcefully marries a child before puberty should be executed and family jailed and if a child marries at puberty the age difference with the spouse should never ever exceed 7 years….and as a result, many sick Yemeni men should be executed….this is just my opinion and the way I see it.

    • Gruppe Tobasco says:

      That’s hardcore but I’m a Muslim who’s fed up of fundamentalism as well. We need another Ataturk.

  7. Shawn says:

    Thanks for the enlightening article, Cathreine.
    Much respect.

  8. Bila says:

    Thank you Catherine my heart goes out to the child who has clearly been severely manipulated by her control driven psycho uncle.

    I hope she receives the right care and support and psychological treatment that she will require to regain some sort of normality and stability that every child deserves.

  9. […] jemenitischen Mädchens, das wegen der drohenden Zwangsheirat von zu Hause geflohen sein soll, erfunden war. Und die Nachricht von Anfang Januar, dass der Prediger Muhammed al-Arifi mittels Fatwa […]

  10. An upset mom :( says:

    I really don’t understand your article… I have seen Nada’s video and she doesn’t seem to be manipulated… government and officials can “misplace” reports. I also wanted to add that sadly, the whole point of her confession is that everything she is saying could be truth as that kind of thing does happen in Yemen. This helps other people around the world to realise of what is going on in societies which tolerate child marriage, and try to get some pressure to stop this horrible act. Could not be more urgent to stop all these madness, to stop all these little children marry to much older men than pursuing this girl which is obviously free, healthy and happy? A eight year old girl has just died (see link below) in Yemen because her “husband” raped her to death. Is it not more important stop this despicable thing to happen than question Nada’s credibility? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2415871/Yemeni-child-bride-8-dies-internal-injuries-night-forced-marriage-groom-40.html

  11. […] haphazard research and knee-jerk reactions (the Queendom of Saudi Arabia debacle, the Yemeni child bride hoax and the guy too handsome for, again, Saudi Arabia) and a weird, uneasy obsession with Muslims and […]

  12. […] haphazard research and knee-jerk reactions (the Queendom of Saudi Arabia debacle, the Yemeni child bride hoax and the guy too handsome for, again, Saudi Arabia) and a weird, uneasy obsession with Muslims and […]

  13. […] haphazard research and knee-jerk reactions (the Queendom of Saudi Arabia debacle, the Yemeni child bride hoax and the guy too handsome for, again, Saudi Arabia) and a weird, uneasy obsession with Muslims and […]

  14. hmm says:

    that child spoke truth. you could see it in her eyes and the emotion filled in her voice. How can an 11 year old do some like this for FINANCIAL gain? it’s not plausible

    • sdoyle says:

      I knew the moment i viewed this video that it was a lie… If the translation is indeed is accurate which all points to it being, then I believe it was scripted and that Nada was “acting” and likely felt she was doing so for a good cause… Yes she is a very good actress and someone directed her well, and most certainly she is hollywood material(!) but as an ex-professional actor and a currently professional child therapist these are NOT things an 11 year old girl in Yemen in this situation would say nor is it likely the way an 11 year old girl would experience Nada’s supposed plight …I knew this immediately

  15. izraul says:

    once again .. the whole point is always missed completely… it took this little girls video to actually get some real attention and interest in what is obviously a very real problem that needs to be fixed! and yet now that it has been deemed fake.. it’s back to normal with everything else?!

    What the hell is wrong with the world and everyone in it? besides religion?! Before she made the video, how many people cared? Not near as many as after, that’s for sure! If it was true, would anything change and get better? Maybe? But now it’s a lie, so nothing will?! I just don’t get it..

    When religion is always the cause .. and never the solution, its just absolutely useless..

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