(JERUSALEM) — In a harrowing video viewed more than six million times on YouTube, an 11-year-old Yemeni girl says she ran away from home after her parents threatened to marry her to a much older man.
“What ever happened to the innocence of childhood?” Nada al-Ahdal asks in Arabic. “What have the children done wrong? Why do you marry them off like that?”
In the three-minute video, she speaks straight to the camera and says she “would rather die” than get married.
“Go ahead, marry me off. I’ll kill myself,” Nada says.
After reportedly learning that her parents had sold her to a Yemeni expatriate living in Saudi Arabia, the young girl says she fled to her uncle’s house in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
“When I heard about the groom, I panicked,” her uncle Abdel Salam al-Ahdal told the Lebanese website, NOW News. “Nada was not even 11 years old. She was exactly 10 years and three months. I could not allow her to be married off and have her future destroyed.”
Ahdal said he now has full custody of his niece but ABC News has been unable to reach Ahdal to confirm his story.
More than six million people viewed Nada’s video in the 48 hours after it was re-posted on YouTube, with English subtitles, by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). An earlier version of the video, believed to be the original without subtitles, surfaced on July 8 and states that Nada fled her parents’ house on July 7. MEMRI’s subtitles are consistent with a translation of the earlier version.
Nada’s situation is common.
”It’s not our fault,” she says in the video. “I’m not the only one. It can happen to any child.”
Human Rights Watch reports more than half of all Yemeni women are married as children — 14 percent before the age of 15, and 52 percent before the age of 18. In developing countries worldwide, one out of nine girls will be married by age 15, and an estimated 140 million girls will become child brides before 2020, according to the UN Population Fund (UNPFA). Of the 140 million, 50 million will be younger than 15.
If child marriages continue at today’s levels, UNPFA reports, 14.2 million girls annually, or 39,000 daily, will marry as children.
“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of UNFPA, said earlier this year. “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled.”
Nada says child brides are forced to put their lives and their dreams on hold.
“This is no upbringing,” she says in the video. “This is criminal, simply criminal.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Samantha Beech, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
Ray Sanchez, Zayn Nabbi, Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN