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In 2008, the 10-year-old made an appearance in a Sana’a court, demanding a divorce from her husband, a man in his 30s.
Nujood Ali, whose family lived in a suburb of the Yemeni capital, undertook an arranged marriage two months previously, and was regularly beaten by her in-laws and raped by her husband.
Ali escaped from her husband, and a local lawyer, Shada Nasser, agreed to take on the case, arguing that the marriage violated a Yemeni law that prohibits sex with girls – even if wed – until they are “suitable for sexual intercourse”.
After rejecting the judge’s proposal that she should resume living with her husband after a break of up to five years, Ali won her case, the divorce, and in the process became a figurehead against forced marriage in the impoverished country.
Later that year, Ali visited the US, where she was honoured by Glamour magazine, alongside Nasser, among the ‘Women of the Year’.
Her cause was recognised by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described her as “one of the bravest women I have ever seen”.
Ali returned home to live with her family, and has penned an autobiography – ‘I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’, which was released last year.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, blogging about the launch of the book, pointed out that countries that marginalize women are often unstable.
“Those countries also tend to practice polygamy and have higher death rates for girls,” Kristof wrote. “That means fewer marriageable women — and more frustrated bachelors to be recruited by extremists. So educating Nujood and giving her a chance to become a lawyer - her dream - isn’t just a matter of fairness. It’s also a way to help tame the entire country.”