Right now, Yemen is dealing with a really scary problem: hoards of pissed off teen and pre-teen girls. And no, it isn't because Justin Bieber canceled his Middle East tour. These young women are serious about demanding divorces from their forced marriages. What began with one 10-year-old bride's brave trek to the courthouse to get a judge to release her from a marriage has turned into a cultural revolution. And it's proving the power of girls to demand justice for themselves. Reem Al Numery, 12, is the latest young woman to stand up against forced marriage in Yemen and demand a divorce from her "husband" — her 30-year-old cousin. She was forced to marry him and drop out of school by her father, under the threat of death. Despite the "tradition" of husbands of children waiting until the kids hit puberty to have sex with them, Reem's husband raped her on their wedding night. When she tried to resist him, he choked her, bit her, and dragged her around by her hair. But Reem has put her fear of her husband and father aside, and has asked for a divorce and the chance to live with her mother and attend school. And she is not alone.
The plight of child brides in Yemen starting getting major international media attention when one 12-year-old girl died as a result of being raped by her husband on their wedding night. After the first rape, when the girl was bleeding heavily, her husband was warned not to have sex with her for several days. But the massive vaginal tearing found during the autopsy indicated he had refused to wait, and raped her again. The egregiousness of this case — the girl's young age, the brutality of her rape, and her death — caused international outrage. And women (and men) around the world have been lending their emotional and financial support to Yemen's child brides.
But the real revolution is being led by girls who aren't yet old enough to drive, vote, or legally get married. They are starting to come forward and demand a change in the culture which allows girls to be sold into marriage and treated as anything from commodities to slaves. And they're gaining ground. They already got the legal age of marriage in Yemen raised to 17. But large parts of the country still conduct marriages between girls younger than 17 and much older men, and the idea of female choice as a part of marriage is under-developed to say the least. The revolution is underway, but there is still a long way to go.
The leadership of Yemen has long doubted the power of girls, and they're about to be proved wrong. They'll be proved wrong when the line of girls asking for divorces is so long, there aren't enough judges in the country to handle it. They'll be proved wrong when more and more girls bravely stand up to abusive husbands and fathers, and get the support of their fellow Yemenis and the rest of the world. And they'll be proved wrong when Reem Al Numery and all the other girls of Yemen get what they deserve — a childhood and a choice.