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World

Somali Girl Sold Into Marriage to Save Her Starving Family

A Somali girl gave up her freedom to save her family from hunger.

 / Updated 12 PHOTOS

As the village wells dried up and her livestock died in the scorched scrubland of southern Somalia, Abdir Hussein had one last chance to save her family from starvation: the beauty of her 14-year-old daughter, Zeinab.

Last year, an older man offered $1,000 for her daughter's dowry which was enough to take her extended family to Dollow — a Somali town on the Ethiopian border where international aid agencies are handing out food and water to families fleeing a devastating drought.

Zeinab initally refused but a month later, faced with her family's overwhelming need, Zeinab relented.

Above: Zeinab, 14, holds her nephew at a camp for people displaced by drought in Dollow, Somalia on April 4, 2017.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab, second from left, and her family pose in front of their shelter at the camp.

The dowry was received, the marriage celebrated, and the union consummated. But Zeinab stayed with her husband for just three days before running away and when her family hired cars to drive them the 25 miles to Dollow, Zeinab went with them. 

But her husband followed, demanding repayment of the dowry. 

Fortunately the staff of an Italian aid group held a collection and came up with enough cash to repay the dowry and the group are now mediating a meeting between the men of the two families. The husband will get back his money if he divorces her in front of witnesses.

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab at the camp.

The United Nations says more than half of Somalia's 12 million population need aid. A similar drought in 2011, exacerbated by years of civil war, sparked a famine which killed 260,000 people. Now the country teeters on the brink again.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab's sister Habiba, 29, and her children sit beside their shelter at the camp.

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab's sister Farhiya, 6, on a cart.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab washes dishes as her mother Abdir Hussein, 45, gestures and her nephews play.

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab applies her make-up before heading to school.

 

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab stands at the entrance of her classroom at a school for internally displaced children. Stick walls topped by corrugated iron sheets serve as classrooms for 10 teachers and around 500 students.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab attends a class at the school.

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab recites verses of the Quran and national songs before class every morning.

 

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab's sister Farhiya, 6, cuts wood with an axe at the camp.

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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Zeinab collects a chewing stick from a tree to brush her teeth.

The United Nations says the drought is part of a series of crises which are fueling humanity's greatest collective disaster since World War Two.

"We stand at a critical point in history," Undersecretary-General for humanitarian affairs Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council in March. "We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations."

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
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