By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

YEMEN, April 16, 2008 ( – An eight-year-old girl forced to “marry” a 30-year-old man has obtained a divorce decree from a court in Yemen.

The girl, Nojud Mohammed Ali, approached the court after living for two months with her “husband”, who repeatedly raped and beat her, according to her testimony.

“He used to do bad things to me,” said Ali according to the Yemen Times. “And I had no idea as to what a marriage is. I would run from one room to another in order to escape, but in the end he would catch me and beat me and then continued to do what he wanted. I cried so much but no one listened to me”

According to Ali, her parents had initially told her that she would be married to Faiz Ali Thamer, 30, but would continue to live with them until she was 18.  However, a week later they sent her to live with Thamer.

When Ali told her parents that Thamer was raping her, she says that they refused to help her and said, “Go to court. Complain to them. We are not going to interfere.”  Her parents reportedly confirmed in court testimony that they had done nothing to help their daughter.

Thamer admits that he had sexual relations with the girl, and is unapologetic.

“Yes, I was intimate with her, but I have done nothing wrong, as she is my wife and I have the right and no one can stop me. But if the judge or other people insist that I divorce her, I will do it, it’s OK,” Thamer reportedly told The Yemen Times.

Although it is legal in Yemen for parents to contract marriage for their daughters before the onset of puberty, it is not legal to consummate the marriage until after puberty begins.

Such legal standards represent long-standing Arab customs which are supported by the Islamic religion.  Mohammed, the founder of Islam, “married” a girl named Aisha at the age of 6, and had sexual relations with her at the age of 9, after she began to menstruate, according to the most authoritative accounts of his life, the “Hadiths”. Mohammed was 52 years old at the time.

“Marriages” of children to men often many decades older than themselves are reportedly common in Yemen.  According to the Argentine magazine La Razon, a study carried out at the University of Sana concluded that about 50% of marriages in Yemen involve minor girls, in many cases between 7 and 10 years of age.  The primary motivation is the financial benefit of the parents, according to the study.

Ali says that she does not wish to return to her parents, and will instead live with an uncle. Her attorney, Shadha Nasser, says that she will ensure that the girl receives an education.