‘I thought that through marriage, I would be able to finish school’

At 16, Shaima married a man 12 years her senior to ease her parents’ money troubles. Soon after her marriage, her husband inflicted a beating that permanently damaged her left eye because she was studying for classes at the local arts institute. Shaima, who thought she had his support to continue her education, attempted suicide. She survived, only to endure a divorce that left her isolated in her lifelong hometown in Iraqi Kurdistan. Today, she has resumed her studies in theater, music and the arts.


My father was a peshmerga (Kurdish national soldier), and our economic situation wasn’t good. We are four kids at home: three girls and a boy.

Therefore, I decided to shoulder some of those responsibilities. I didn’t want to be a burden on them, but I couldn’t find any kind of job.

I really looked hard to find a job, but I couldn’t find one. So, I had to get married because I thought that through marriage, I would be able to finish school.

I thought (my husband) would encourage me, but unfortunately, he didn’t. He abused me.

Photo of Shaima holding her favorite childhood doll.

Married at 15 in 2014, Shaima holds her favorite childhood doll. After going through a difficult divorce, she says her friends looked down on her. (Photos by Micah Garen for VOA News)

I got my marriage license outside of the Kalar court in the Khanaqin District, where underage girls easily get approved for marriage.

At a very early age, you have to put a huge responsibility on your shoulders. It’s overwhelming, because you don’t know whether to behave according to your age, or as a wife and mother.

You normally need time to be spoiled, but when you marry and have kids, you have to take care of others.

It was very difficult after my divorce. I went through hard times. I was depressed because I couldn’t live a normal life. I was afraid and very stressed. I was worried about what people thought of me.

In this society, which is a closed-minded society, people look down on divorced women.

Photo of Shaima

“To alleviate my suffering, I got involved in theater, acting, to forget my pain, become empowered, and enhance my skills.”

Before marriage, Shaima dreamed of attending college. Now back at home, she teaches theater, art and music. She wants to leave Iraq. She says she's open to a second marriage so people would stop talking about her.

To alleviate my suffering, I got involved in theater, acting, to forget my pain, become empowered, and enhance my skills.

I participated in many festivals and international events, and I received a second-place award for best actress.

Two months later in Baghdad, I played a role in “Shaqam.” Many other countries participated: Iran, Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia and many Iraqi cities.

Our play was about the Shingal tragedy and Yezidis girls. I wrote the play with the help of Mr. Hunar, a teacher in Koya. Everyone liked our play the best, and I received an award for Best Female Actor.

I am asking parents: Do not let your daughters marry younger than 18. Do not let them make decisions by themselves, because they have a different mentality at that age and cannot make good decisions about their future.

Only when their daughters reach age 18 should parents give them the right to decide about their marriage.

A version of this video originally appeared on Facebook.

What the community says

ئەگەر کەکۆمەڵگا خۆی لەکێشەی کۆمەڵایەتیوو سیاسیوو ئابووری ناڕێکوو ناجێگیردابێ ،زەواج لەتەمەنە جیاوازەکانی تریشا ئەو سەرکەوتوەنیە. جاران ئەگەر ئەمە ڕەخنەی لەسەربوبێ، وە لەژێر فشاری گەورەکاندا کرابێ، ئەمڕۆ بوە بەشتێکی سەردەمیانە، جیلێک درووست بوە ئەگەر ئەم کارەی بۆنەکەی هەڕەشەی خۆ سووتانوو خۆکووشتنوو ڕۆشتنەدەرەوە لەووڵات ، لەگەورەکان دەکا.

TRANSLATION: If the community is full of numerous unstable, society, political and economic crisis, then marriage at any other age can be unsuccessful too. This process in the past may be was enforced by elders but today , the generation grow up in away that if you don’t let them marry at early age then they will threaten the elders to set themselves on fire ,commit suicide or leave the country.

Rebwar AD

Li Agiriyê keçikên 16 salî difiroşin 30 zêrî. Navê firotinê jî lê kirine “qelend”.

TRANSLATION: In Agri, Turkey , 16 years old girls will be sold for 30 Ounce Gold and they call it a (Dowry)

Bawer Agiri

Istanbul, Turkey

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Global perspective

Percentage of women married before 18
10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%
Show map

United States


The number of children married per 1,000, ages 15-17 years old

(That's about .6%
of 15- to 17-year-olds .)

The term ‘child marriage’ refers to formal marriages and informal unions in which a girl or boy under age 18 lives with a partner as if married. In an informal union, a couple lacks a formal civil or religious ceremony. Our graphic is based on United Nations information. The main sources are national census and household surveys, including the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Surveys are subject to sampling and measurement error. We used the U.N. child marriage and population figures to approximate how many women in each country were married before 15 and before 18.

Source: “Child Marriage Database”. UNICEF (March 2018)

“World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017)