National Geographic : 2011 Jun
Nujood said she wanted a divorce. A prominent female Yemeni attorney took up Nujood's case. News stories began appearing in English, rst in Yemen and then internationally; both the head- lines and Nujood herself were irresistible, and when she was nally granted her divorce, crowds in the Sanaa courthouse burst into applause. She was invited to the United States, to be honored before more cheering audiences. Everyone Nujood met was bowled over by her unnerving combination of gravity and poise. When I met her in a Sanaa newspaper o ce, she was wearing a third-grader-size black abaya, the full covering Yemeni women use in public af- ter puberty. Even though she had now traveled across the Atlantic and back and been grilled by scores of inquisitive grown-ups, she was as sweet and direct as if my questions were brand-new to her. At lunch she snuggled in beside me as we sat on prayer mats and showed me how to dip my at bread into the shared pot of stew. She said she was living at home again and attending school (her father, publicly excoriated, had grudgingly taken her back), and in her notebooks she was composing an open letter to Yemeni parents: "Don't let your children get married. You'll spoil their educations, and you'll spoil their child- hoods if you let them get married so young." Social change theory has a fancy label for in- dividuals like Nujood Ali: "positive deviants," the single actors within a community who through some personal combination of circumstance and moxie are able to defy tradition and instead try something new, perhaps radically so. Amid the international campaigns against child marriage, positive deviants now include the occasional mother, father, grandmother, teacher, village health worker, and so on---but some of the tough- est are the rebel girls themselves, each of their stories setting o new rebellions in its wake. In Yemen I met 12-year-old Reem, who obtained her divorce a few months a er Nujood's; in doing so she won over a hostile judge who had insisted, memorably, that so young a bride is not yet ma- ture enough to make a decision about divorce. In India I met the 13-year-old Sunil, who at 11 swore to her parents that she would refuse the Rajani and her boy groom barely look at each other as they are married in front of the sacred fire. By tradition, the young bride is expected to live at home until puberty, when a second ceremony transfers her to her husband. In India, where new wives are expected to move in with their husband's fami- lies, paraya dhan refers to daughters still living with their parents. It means "someone else's wealth."