There was nothing unusual or illegal about 12-year-old Reem Al Numery being forced into marriage with her 30-year-old cousin. Yemen, unlike most countries, has no legal minimum age for marriage, and adult men sometimes marry girls as young as 8.
As Reem told U.S. embassy officials, "When I protested, my dad gagged me and tied me up. After the wedding, I tried to kill myself twice." That she escaped to protest in public is a measure of her exceptional courage and luck.
Reem is one of the brave girl children who are risking everything to protest being sold into marriage by fathers and becoming the endangered and uneducated chattel of husbands. Now living with her mother, she wants to go back to school. Sadly, in Yemen a girl's education traditionally ends at marriage, and she and her mother have no money to continue her schooling. But Reem has been spared what is often another tragic fate: girls who give birth before 15 are five times more likely to die from childbirth than women in their 20s. Not only the right to a childhood is at stake here; so is survival itself.
Steinem is a writer, feminist organizer and co-founder of the Women's Media Center