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Yemen: A cry for help

Twelve-year-old Reem has done so many interviews with journalists, she's lost count. "She's like Nancy Ajram now," her mother joked - referring to a famous Lebanese singer.

I visited Reem in her mum's Sana'a appartment for my Christian Science Monitor story on child brides. Reem's parents are separated. Since the start of her summer vacation in June, Reem has been kidnapped by her father, married, repeatedly raped by a man twice her age, rescued by police and reunited with her mother - but she is still waiting for a judge to annul her wedding contract.

When I ask Reem what three things would change her life for the better, she says: "First, I want to get divorced. Second, I want to go to school again. But I don't know the third thing."

Reem's struggle has made her famous. She's been on the front pages of Yemen's newspapers and she's got used to phone interviews, press conferences, TV crews and foreign journalists.

Lawyers and civil society activists are hoping that media coverage of Reem's case will alert public attention to the trauma of child marriage, and will shift the parameters of the national debate on the need for an enforceable minimum marriage age in this conservative Islamic republic.

But there is very little emotional support for individual girls, like Reem, who are generating headlines. It's clear that Reem is drawing strength from her mother and feels admiration and gratitude for her female lawyer. However, Reem hasn't received any professional counselling and psychological support.

During our interview, Reem plays with her cell phone – and laughs at her mum. She seems able to talk about her experience of marriage with a light-heart. But, at one point, the discussion of her father's cruelty provokes tears and it's clear that she's very shaken.

"I have nightmares that he comes to mum's flat and stabs me in the heart," she says.

Reem's future is still uncertain. She doesn't even know if she'll be able to go back to school in September because her father could kidnap her if she leaves the safety of her mum's appartment. Her divorce case is on hold while her lawyer appeals an initial ruling.

In my CSM story, I wrote that Yemen Times editor, Nadia Saqqaf, wants to start a trust to support Reem and other former child brides. If you're willing to offer professional skills or time to help establish the trust, please email: yemtimes@gmail.com