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The 10 year old who awoke the world to a vital cause

Words by Abi Scaife

She was only ten years old when she changed the world - and today, aged 20, Nada Alahdal shows no signs of slowing.

“Child marriage in my village is very common, especially in my family,” explains Nada. “My grandma, she got married when she was nine. My mom, she got married at the age of 14. So for them, these kinds of things [are] normal. This crime is normal for them because it happens in [their] small society.”

Nada was 10 years and three months old when she was first engaged. Growing up in a small village in Yemen, child marriage was common in her family - which is why her parents engaged her to be married off to a wealthy expatriate, 16 years Nada’s senior.

Luckily for Nada, her uncle Abdel Salam al-Ahdal stepped in. Abdel believed that what was happening to Nada was wrong, and was able to dissuade the suitor, dissolving the engagement.

“He's well educated,” explains Nada. “He's the only person in the family who finished uni. He's really into media and reading a lot, so he's the only person who's educated in the whole family. He really believes in educating girls, and girls' rights. In summer breaks he used to take one of the girls [in the family] to the capital of Yemen, educate them, join them to singing classes, drawing classes, English classes, and I got really close to my uncle. He used to take care of my education.”

Unfortunately for Nada, her parents found another man to marry her. This is when she ran away from home, to her uncle who took her in - and when she filmed a video speaking out against her situation, and the situation of many other girls who are forced into child marriage.

The video went viral, and you can watch it here, with English subtitles.

Though Nada went to live with her uncle, the danger was by no means over. Nada and Abdel were kidnapped by ISIS, in an attempt to silence her. There has been a lot of backlash from those who still support child marriage - though Nada has received support around the world, there were many that wished to prevent her from speaking out.

“I [received] a royal invitation from Saudi Arabia, saying that Arabia will take care of everything, like, [my] education, etcetera, will be under their support. Obviously, I accepted that - I needed to be protected, I didn't have another choice,” explains Nada. “[That is] where I started my activity - I’m talking about child marriage, I'm [a] feminist, on social media and TV, talking about my story and trying to spread awareness about the consequences of child marriage, and the importance of girls lives.”

Since then, Nada has been fighting to end child marriages across the globe and to protect the young girls that are being subjected to this injustice. She has even gone on to create her own charity - the Nada Foundation. The foundation’s project ‘Our Dreams Thrive’ is helping Yemeni girls that have been displaced by child marriage, violence or conflict.

The Nada Foundation is using profits from Nada’s book; The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up Against Child Marriage, which she co-wrote alongside Yemeni director Khadija al-Salam. The money is currently funding the educational journey of 10,000 girls, teaching them the English language, and helping them to instil them with confidence, dignity and passion - as well as giving them the opportunity to continue their education remotely.

“We really believe that English can save so many girls’ lives,” says Nada. “One video of mine saved my life - I didn't mean to post it for people to see, but it happened. Imagine [if] I was speaking in English, my message would be worldwide. So that's why we start courses for these girls for free to learn English. We opened in six cities in Yemen classes.”

The biggest result of Nada’s incredible work has been the young girls that she has been able to save. Her story is a long, dangerous and stressful one - but it has inspired so many other girls around the world that are enduring, or in danger of, child marriages. Thanks to her work, these girls are finding freedom.

“There are so many girls [that] actually social media contacted me and asked me for help,” explains Nada, speaking of the incredible work her foundation is continuing to perform. “So the programme is to take these girls, put them in a safe places and try to solve their problems with the police legally. It was a safe haven. We [have] saved more than 63 girls.”

Charity check-in 

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

ActionAid UK. This is an international charity that works with women and girls living in poverty, and helping to end child marriage. Support them here.

Girls Not Brides. Girls Not Brides is a global partnership working collectively to end child marriage. Learn more here.

World Vision UK. For 70 years, World Vision UK has been working to end child marriages across the globe. Find out more.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Gender Equality.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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