A Yemeni child bride who was forced to marry a violent husband three times her age when she was just 11 has spoken of the shocking sexual abuse she suffered at his hands for more than a decade.
Noora Al Shami was given away to Mohammed Al Ahdam, a distant cousin in his 30s, because her parents did not want her live in poverty.
But almost as soon as the celebrations had ended she was quickly thrust into a world of physical and psychological abuse from which she could not escape.
She told The Guardian: ’It was at the end of the wedding that the fear and horror set in.
‘He was three times my age and saw marriage as a means to act like a depraved animal.’
She told how she ‘immediately began to quiver and cry’ when she was driven to the house Al Ahdam shared with his father.
When the clerical worker first took off his clothes, she ran away in terror and desperately avoided sex for 10 days.
And when she was eventually pressured into consummating the marriage, she said her body went into shock and she was rushed to hospital.
She described being ‘treated like a sex object’ but said no one was interested in helping her because she was ‘legally his wife’.
Noora, now 35, went on to have two miscarriages within a year before giving birth to a son, Ihab, when she was 13, a daughter, Ahlam, a year later and then another boy, Shibab, at the age of 15.
She said Al Ahdam ‘thought nothing of hitting me’ when she was pregnant and even attacked the children.
On one occasion, he banged two-year-old Ahlam on the floor by her feet forcing her to need hospital treatment for bleeding.
Eventually, a decade after her wedding in 1989, she sought refuge with a project run by Oxfam and the Yemei’s Women’s Union which helps victims of domestic violence.
She said: ‘I managed to get a lawyer and then filed for divorce. But after getting divorced, I faced a new reality.
‘Who would feed my three children and take care of my elderly parents? I had to find a job and worked as a maid while I was studying for my high school diploma. My neighbours used to harass me and say I was a bad woman for getting divorced.
‘As a Yemeni woman, I faced many challenges, but I had to stay strong and fight to improve my situation.
‘I started to tell people about the psychological and physical impact child marriage had upon me. I miscarried twice due to the abuse, and I was lucky to survive.’
The practice of marrying young girls is widespread in Yemen and has attracted the attention of international rights groups seeking to pressure the government to raise the minimum age to 18.
Yemen’s poverty plays a role in hindering efforts to stamp out the practice of child marriage, as poor families find themselves unable to say no to ‘bride-prices’ for their daughters that can be worth hundreds of dollars.
More than a quarter of Yemen’s females marry before age 15, according to a report in 2010 by the Social Affairs Ministry.
Tribal custom also plays a role, including the belief that a young bride can be shaped into an obedient wife, bear more children and be kept away from temptation.
In September 2010, a 12-year-old Yemeni child-bride died after struggling for three days in labour to give birth, a local human rights organisation said.
Yemen once set 15 as the minimum age for marriage, but parliament annulled that law in the 1990s, saying parents should decide when a daughter marries.
Noora’s story also comes weeks after unconfirmed reports emerged that an eight-year-old child bride died of internal injuries on her wedding night.
Culled and edited: 24/7 Nigeria News Update