A story from another part of the world that also applies to English teachers in Korea

I tried to make the title shorter, but I couldn’t. Sorry – not usually so long winded in the title department. Anyway…

This story from CNN has been one of the top headlines, and possibly one of the most heartbreaking to have been published on that site in recent memory. No, it’s not about Mr. Kennedy’s death (rest in peace, sir) or Microsoft apologizing for some unsightly Photoshopping work – it’s the picture of a ten-year-old bride, forced into an abusive marriage, marching to a judge to demanding a divorce – and the social change / aftereffects.

That’s the background; two years later, take a guess at what has changed.

Nothing. Not a darn thing. From the CNN article:

Nujood’s parents, like many others in Yemen, struck a social bargain. More than half of all young Yemeni girls are married off before the age of 18, many times to older men, some with more than one wife.

It means the girls are no longer a financial or moral burden to their parents. But Nujood’s parents say they did not expect Nujood’s new husband to demand sex from his child bride.

To escape, Nujood hailed a taxi — for the first time in her life — to get across town to the central courthouse where she sat on a bench and demanded to see a judge.

After several hours, a judge finally went to see her. “And he asked me, ‘what do you want’ and I said ‘I want a divorce’ and he said ‘you’re married?’ And I said ‘yes.'” says Nujood.

Nujood’s father and husband were arrested until the divorce hearing, and Nujood was put in the care of Nasser.

Indeed, it seems the judge had heard enough of the abuse to agree with Nujood that she should get her divorce.

But based on the principles of Shariah law, her husband was compensated, not prosecuted. Nujood was ordered to pay him more than $200 — a huge amount in a country where the United Nations Development Programme says 15.7 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

To get her divorce, Nujood showed a character and strength not easily expressed by women in Yemen, let alone a 10-year-old child bride. But she will need to muster all that strength and more if she’s to finally reclaim her life.

Nujood told us she thought the divorce would be the end of her struggle and she’s still angry that it turned out to be just the beginning.

Returning to the beginning of the article:

The story was supposed to end with the divorce and an innocent but determined girl allowed to fully embrace the childhood she fought so hard to keep.

Instead, there has been no fairytale ending for Nujood.

There was, though, a stunning transformation. Nujood went from being a victim and child bride to a portrait of courage and triumph. Her inspirational story was told and re-told around the world, but at home all was not well.

In the fall of 2008 Nujood was recognized as Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year, alongside some of the world’s most impressive women. She even attended the ceremony in New York and was applauded by women from Hillary Clinton to Nicole Kidman.

There is a tell-all book which is to be published in more than 20 languages, and the author says Nujood will receive a good portion of the royalties.

Nujood’s strength was celebrated by complete strangers. But what did all the fame do for the one person it was meant to transform?

“There is no change at all since going on television. I hoped there was someone to help us, but we didn’t find anyone to help us. It hasn’t changed a thing. They said they were going to help me and no one has helped me. I wish I had never spoken to the media,” Nujood says bitterly.

OK – now, compare that to the recent SMOE fail and see which gets you more upset. That change hasn’t come in Yemen despite all the outside attention and publicity has far more to do with local culture than any demands of the outside world to reshape things. Granted, Yemen is far from a first-world country as Korea attempts to be, but the idea is the same: local culture dictates the rate of change, and is not necessarily open to change from the outside.

Although we may never hear a complete answer from SMOE, the fact that SMOE screwed up is inexcuseable – no doubt about it. By taking the lives of 100 people already hired and changing horses in the days or hours before their job was to start is inexcusable. Yes, it’s always a possibility no matter who you work for or where you go – losing your job before you’ve started happens everywhere in the world. Perhaps we expect better from a government agency, but we now know that is no longer the case. There’s little chance for the affected teachers of winning any sort of recompense – which would likely involve proving that SMOE broke the contract and convincing a court of that fact.

The moral of the story is this: gaining publicity for your cause or sympathy from many doesn’t always (or necessarily) change things in the way you hoped.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2009

1 Comment

  1. The men in Yemen are child rapists and monsters. I’m surprised they didn’t give her a clitorectomy.

    These men should be systematically eliminated from the global gene pool and their culture of child rape should be eradicated and forgotten.

    But maybe I should tell you what I really think of these bastards…