By Anna Louie Sussman
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Delphine Minoui's book, now out in English, puts the reader in the shoes of a Yemeni girl married at age 10. When the girl divorced her husband, she spotlighted the sufferings of child brides. Book royalties now support the ex-bride and her parents.
At one point Minoui asked Nujood's father about his decision to sell his daughter for $750 to the deliveryman, who subsequently repeatedly raped and beat her.
"He told me, 'I'm a poor man and I didn't get any education,'" Minoui said. "He said, 'I thought at least she would be with someone who has a little more money than me and she wouldn't get kidnapped.'"
Minoui is an outspoken critic of early marriage, but says she could "understand more where he's coming from" after the interviews.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, where 1-in-2 is illiterate, according to the CIA World Factbook. A 2008 study by the Gender Development Research and Studies Center at Sanaa University found that 52.1 percent of brides are underage at the time of marriage, compared with 6.7 percent of grooms.
After Nujood first stormed the courthouse, in April 2008, a handful of other cases in Yemen have come to light.
In September 2009, a 12-year-old girl died giving birth and in April another 12-year-old died of internal bleeding after intercourse with her husband, a man twice her age.
Other cases have had happier endings.
Nasser, Nujood's lawyer, said in an e-mail interview that since Nujood's case she has handled nine more divorces of young girls married to older men who sexually abused them and won favorable settlements for at least three.
Despite a February 2009 law to fix the age of marriage for girls at 17 and boys at 18, opposition from conservative lawmakers has stalled its enactment. In April, the influential Yemeni cleric Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani announced to a cheering audience at a local university that he would gather one million signatures of people opposed to the legislation.
On the advice of her publisher, Minoui wrote the book in the first-person and it moves along fluidly, as though the bright, inquisitive Nujood simply opened her mouth and let it all out.
The book's success has also secured a comfortable future for Nujood and her family. Under the contract, Nujood earns a percentage of royalties from both the French and foreign editions. She has earned enough to buy a large house for her family and Minoui and her publisher helped set up a grocery store on the ground floor where her father and brothers work during the day.
Nujood and her younger sister Haifa are enrolled in a nearby school, but Minoui, who speaks with her once a week by phone, says her attendance is somewhat spotty. She sometimes stays at home, or plays with three other girls now living in Sanaa who also escaped abusive early marriages by getting divorced.
Minoui says she recently heard from Nasser, Nujood's lawyer, that Nujood told another under-age divorcee, "You should write a book too and earn some money for your family."
Philippe Gelie, foreign editor at Le Figaro, admires Minoui's work on both Iran and from across the region.
"She's very sharp on the news and has a very sensible quality," he said. "You have to be interested in the people you're writing about and she definitely has this human touch."
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Anna Louie Sussman is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Nation and other print and online outlets.
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