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Nojoud goes back to school (Front).

Sana'a, Sept. 17 -- Ten year-old divorced Nojoud started her first day of school on Tuesday in one of Sana'a's public schools.

Nojoud Ali raised a national and international media storm three months ago, after she got divorced from a man three times her age.

She was the first girl of her age in Yemen to receive a court marriage annulment and her case has raised huge discussion among human rights activists, parliament members and lawyers about Yemeni Marriage Law.

The minimum age for marriage is currently 15 years-old in Yemen, but parents and guardians are allowed to overrule the law at their own discretion, if they judge that their daughter is "ready" for marriage.

Today, Nojoud and her eight year-old sister Hifa are able to go to school thanks to the financial donations and moral support of human right activists and donors.

"We have chosen a public school despite generous donations from many charities and donors to support Nojoud in going back to school and starting her new life," said Shatha Nasser, Nojoud's lawyer.

"We took into consideration that Nojoud comes from a very poor family, with miserable living conditions, and that putting her into an environment too different from her own might create a shock," Nasser explained, when asked why Nojoud would not be going to a private school.

Going back to school was not easy for either Nojoud or those who support her.

"We were shocked when a social supervisor in a school refused to register her, saying that Nojoud might comprise a risk for other students of her age," said Nasser. "The supervisor said that Nojoud has become aware of things [sexual affairs] that she might share with her classmates and that it might mess up their minds," Nasser said.

However Njala Al-Matri, principal of a public school located in Rwadha, north Sana'a, welcomed both girls and found no problem to admit them to her school.

"We totally understand Nojoud's case. She will be in the second grade of primary level - with her sister, where they will receive the same care and education as all the school's other students. We will do our best to help her to integrate with other students," she added.

The school, which was built in 1986 with Rwadha residents' donations', receives 1300 female students in primary and secondary levels each day in two shifts (morning and afternoon). Each class contains not more than fifty students.

The school has witnessed cases in which girls have dropped out of classes because of early marriage. "Last year a thirteen year-old girl married and left school. Now she is a mother," said the principal, highlighting the link between child marriages and dropping out of school in Yemen.

According to the National Women's Committee (NWC), child marriage is responsible for the high number of girls dropping out of school and the high illiteracy rate among girls.

Moreover, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that Yemen faces a serious challenge in bridging the education gender gap: In 2006, for every 100 boys in primary school there were only 63 girls.

Nojoud, who lives with her parents, five sisters and four brothers in a very small house, had suspended her studying for a whole year when she was married. Her sister Hifa was forced to sell sweets in one of Sana'a streets, from where she returned at the end of the day with the sum of around YR 500 (about USD 4), the family's sole daily income.

"When we received the donations, we were also concerned about Hifa's fate. She is now the same age as Nojoud when she was married," said Nasser.

"We decided to cover the expenses of both of them," she added.

Nojoud has gained the admiration and sympathy of many people and organizations, including Yemen Times, who have shown their interest and contacted her lawyer offering their help. "I received many emails and calls from different people wanting to help Nojoud, and I really want to thank all these people for their kindness and support which helped Nojoud to survive that critical stage," said the lawyer.

Nojoud and Hifa are going to receive AC 1,100 yearly from Italian and Swiss donors. These donations will fund Nojoud and her sister's education. The amount is donated to fund her education and related expenses, as well as food, clothes and medical expenses, as long as Nojoud and her sister show their commitment in studying and continue to deserve these advantages.

"I'm so excited and happy" said Nojoud with wide smile before she and her sister entered their classroom, both wearing their school uniforms -a long green overcoat and white headscarf - and carrying a new brown bag....

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Feb 8, 2009
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