Nada al-Ahdal is an 11-year-old girl from Yemen, but instead of just playing with her friends after school or focusing on homework like other girls her age might, she says she had no other choice but to run away from home — in order to escape being married to a much older man. Her account and her powerful appeal against child marriage has now been posted on YouTube.
She eloquently explains that she would be “better off dead” than married at 11 and condemned to forgo her childhood, her education, and her dreams for the future. Her appeal currently has close to three million views on YouTube.
The video has made the rounds on Reddit, where it was submitted yesterday, and has been rapidly picked up by MSN, Huffington Post. According to NOW News, Nada currently lives with her uncle, to whom she fled when her parents tried to force her into marriage.
Nada’s imploring speech about her terror at being married off and the injustice of depriving her of an education and the innocence of childhood is compelling and elegantly delivered. Her eyes are fixated at the lens, and her speech is hurried, but clear.
“I would have no life, no education. Don’t they have any compassion?” she asks.
The barrage of statistics we encounter on a daily basis can be desensitizing, but when a little girl looks determinedly into the camera and clearly states: “I’d rather die,” the impact is undeniable. The video is thus becoming an effective vehicle for explaining the horrors of underage forced marriage from an uncomfortably personal perspective.
Nonetheless, some statistics can help put her story in context: According to the United Nations, one out of nine girls in developing countries will be married by age 15, and an estimated 14.2 million girls a year will probably become child brides in the next decade.
In Yemen, about half of all women are married as children, Human Rights Watch reports. Furthermore, there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Yemen, which leaves many girls, such as Nada, vulnerable to marital rape, abuse, poverty, and myriad health issues.
In an interview with National Geographic, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Stephanie Sinclair explains that child marriage “isn’t just harmful to the girls involved. It’s at the root of so many other societal ills: poverty, disease, maternal mortality, infant mortality, violence against women.”
The Internet has helped give this girl a voice that is now being heard all around the globe. But it is important to remember that there are many other children just like her who cannot escape their fate, and whose faces do not appear in videos, and whose names we’ll never know.