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Girl Runs Away from Arranged Marriage; Saudi Activist Faces Severe Punishment; Mother Gives Birth to Huge Baby

Aired July 31, 2013 - 12:30   ET


ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR,: Secretary of State John Kerry is now heading to Pakistan, one day after the U.S. hosted the first direct Middle East peace talks in three years.

This is the first visit to Pakistan by a U.S. official since parliamentary elections there May.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Kerry arrives a day after Pakistani lawmakers chose a new president. It's a mostly ceremonial vote.

The secretary is expected to discuss some controversial drone attacks and the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

COREN: Well, she's just a 11-years-old, and she says her parents are trying to marry her off in exchange for money.

HOLMES: Yeah, Nada al-Ahdal says, quote, "death would be a better option."

Her story, posted on YouTube, has gone viral.

Here's Mohammed Jamjoom.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A young girl stares at the camera, her question shocking, coming as it does from an 11-year-old.

"Would it make you happy to marry me off?" she asks.

Nada al-Ahdal accuses her parents of trying to get her married off in exchange for money. She doesn't want to be one of Yemen's child brides, she says.

"Death would be a better option for me," she declares.

The video, a passionate plea on behalf of girls in Yemen, was uploaded to YouTube and quickly went viral. Millions around the world have seen it.

A few weeks later we found Nada living with her uncle in Sana'a. She said she had escaped her immediate family in her hometown of Hudaydah.

"I ran away from marriage," she explains. "I ran away from ignorance. I ran away from being bought and sold."

Nada told us about the singing group she's a part of, unusual for conservative rural areas in Yemen. She also hopes to get access to a better school in a bigger city.

Nada says she asked a friend to make the YouTube video so she could tell the world how tough it is for girls there.

"I'd rather commit suicide than get engaged," she says forcefully.

In deeply tribal Yemen, the issue of child marriage is extremely complicated. Human rights groups say more than half of all young girls there are wedded before age 18, most of them to older men.

And while many activists groups and politicians have tried to change the law, a bill drafted to establish a minimum age for marriage was blocked by conservatives.

However, soon after the video was made, questions began to surface. Did Nada's story add up? Was she really being pressured to get married?

Acting with a leading child welfare organization, the interior ministry took Nada and placed her in a women's shelter.

A CNN crew gained exclusive access as the parties in the drama came face-to-face in a stormy session over the weekend. Facing her parents, Nada answers allegations her story may have been made up.

"Why do you believe them and don't believe me?" she asks. The arbiter in the negotiations is one of Yemen's leading women's rights activists, Ramzia al-Eryani, Nada's temporary guardian.

"I don't care about what's best for the mom or dad or uncle," al- Eryani says. "Just what's best for the girl."

Nada and her uncle maintain their story is true. Her parents repeatedly stress they have no intention to marry her off.

Still, just where the truth lies is hard to determine.

Then in an extraordinary moment Nada asks for something few in the room are expecting.

"In the countryside, there's no English classes. There's no computer classes," she says. "Please let me stay in Sana'a instead of here." All she wants, apparently, is a chance at a better life.

And she might get it. At the end of the session, they have an agreement. The entire family, parents and uncle included, are going to move into the house of another relative in Sana'a to see if they can work it all out together.


HOLMES: And Mohammed Jamjoom joins us now from Beirut. Mohammed, certainly a feisty and impressive young lady, do we know why she went to YouTube for this? What was behind that?

JAMJOOM: Michael, she told us that she decided to post this on YouTube because she wanted to tell the world about what was going on with girls in Yemen.

She said to us she would rather commit suicide than to be engaged. You heard her say she'd rather die than be married.

Now, we must add that her parents continually said that this girl's story was not true. She and her uncle said that it was true.

There's still confusion as to what exactly lies at the heart of this, but this has resonated in Yemen and beyond because child marriage in Yemen is such a problem and because young girls there are still being married off to this day.


COREN: Yeah, Mohammed, as you say, it's such a huge problem. I think something like half young girls under the age of 18 are married off.

What are the laws and is it likely that perhaps another story will help change the situation?

JAMJOOM: Anna, I've been covering stories like this for quite some time. I've been to Yemen many times and done stories like this from there.

What's shocking to know about this is, just about five years ago, there was a 10-year-old girl named Majuda Ali (ph) who had been married off. She was appalled by that. She took herself to court in the capital, demanded a divorce and got that.

At that time there was so much outrage directed towards Yemen that officials there said the law would be changed, that a minimum age for marriage would be set.

Five years later it hasn't happened. Every time they try to pass this law, conservatives there call it un-Islamic and they get it blocked. And that's a huge problem.

I spoke with a Yemeni journalist and activist named (inaudible), talking to her about this case. She said that in Yemen that there's a saying in some provinces that it's good to marry an eight-year-old girl because they're guaranteed, meaning they're still a virgin.

She said that's appalling. It's disgusting and inhumane, but it's a reality. But she also said that right now she's heartened by the fact this story has gotten so much attention. She thinks that means that there could be real change there soon.


COREN: Yeah, a cruel reality in Yemen, Afghanistan. HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.

COREN: Pakistan, a bunch of places.

HOLMES: Yeah, exactly.

Mohammed, thanks so much bringing that story to us.

All right, he's held a grip on Zimbabwe for decades, has had an at times brutal reign.

COREN: So will voters keep President Robert Mugabe in office? The election latest, that's next.


COREN: Well a Saudi activist is facing seven years in prison and 600 lashes for violating the nation's anti-cyber-crime law.

HOLMES: 600 lashes? Human Rights Watch says Jeddah's criminal court found Raif Badawi guilty of insulting Islam through his website and on television.

The group says the sentence, quote, "makes a mockery of Saudi Arabia's claims that it supports reform and religious dialogue."

Badawi does have the right to appeal.

COREN: Voters are picking a president today in Zimbabwe. There are five candidates, but it's really down to just two, again.

The same two men have faced off at every election for more than a decade.

HOLMES: Yeah, Morgan Tsvangirai, the Social Democrat, you see him on the left of your screen, and President Robert Mugabe, who has held the leadership of Zimbabwe for 33 years. He's 89-years-old.

We're following this election here in the United States, of course, because it is a democratic exercise that more often than not descends into violence.

COREN: CNN's Nkepile Mabuse is watching next door from South Africa.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anna and Michael, this election in Zimbabwe is significant for several reasons.

Crucially, many Zimbabweans believe that if it is free and fair it could spell the end of Robert Mugabe's 33-year-long rule over that country.

Now at age 89 Mugabe's one of the longest serving rulers on the African continent. And, of course, in 2011, we saw the likes of Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gadhafi being deposed, and many Africans felt the era of African strong men was coming to an end, and, of course, Robert Mugabe remains one of the last standing dictators. Many opposition politicians inside Zimbabwe argue that over the years he's rigged elections and he's used violence and intimidation to hold on to power.

Mugabe himself has vehemently denied these accusations. He says this election will be free and fair and that if he does lose the election he will cede power.

Many Zimbabweans have responded by saying they will believe it when they see it.

Anna and Michael, back to you.

HOLMES: Nkepile Mabuse there in South Africa, reporting on that story.

It's been an interesting election already. Morgan Tsvangirai saying it's rigged and there's been irregularities already and ...

COREN: But more peaceful this time.

HOLMES: More peaceful. Not violent like the last election, of course, but a lot of people are saying Robert Mugabe's never seen an election he can't win, so we'll see what happens.

COREN: Exactly.

Well, the star director of the Bolshoi Ballet relives the acid attack that changed his life. We will hear from him. That's next.


COREN: Welcome back.

An American college student, who was abandoned in a holding cell for days without food and water, has settled with the U.S. government for $4.1 million.

HOLMES: What an extraordinary story this is. His name is Daniel Chong and he had to drink his own urine to survive and even wrote, or tried to write, a farewell note to his mother on his arm in -- with glass. This was all before authorities found him. The 25-year-old was locked up and forgotten last year after a drug enforcement agent raided a San Diego, California, home they suspected was being used to distribute ecstasy. Chong was actually never formally charged or even formally arrested. They put him in there, forget about him.

COREN: How can you forget about him?

HOLMES: Unbelievable, isn't it?

COREN: Incredible.

HOLMES: $4 million.

COREN: Well, the famous Bolshoi ballet is trying to move past recent problems and put the spotlight back on dancing.

HOLMES: Yes, the company is practicing in London. There you go. You can see it yourself. Celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Royal Opera House. Now, back in January, the ballet's artistic director was the victim of an acid attack.

COREN: There have also been reports of feuds and infighting, but a new company director took over this month and he's hoping all that is behind them.


VLADIMIR URIN, DIRECTOR, BOLSHOI THEATRE (through translator): But I think that at its base, Bolshoi Theatre is wonderful and very talented company. And I am absolutely positive that the best part of this company will be united and I hope that all this negative things and problems, they're already in the past. I'm spending now my days meeting people and talking to them and discussing to them. And they all want to have real and series work. So I don't - I don't hear from them any discuss about this past conflicts or any ideas of pulling it part.


HOLMES: Yes, the artistic director hurt in the acid attack was released from hospital in February. He is recovering. The attack left him just 5 percent of his vision.

COREN: Well, British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson became a symbol of domestic abuse to some when pictures came out of her husband placing his hand around her throat at a restaurant. Well, now the couple have taken a step towards divorce to end their 10-year marriage.

HOLMES: Yes, Charles Saatchi is her husband. He's an art dealer, former media mogul. Ran a very famous ad agency in the U.K. He denied he attacked her, but says he voluntarily went to police to accept a public warning. Lawson, known as the queen of food porn (ph), is the host of the ABC show "The Taste." Also has a show, I think, on The Food Network. Very well known in Europe. And her father was chancellor of the exchequer, of course, Nigel Lawson.

COREN: Right.


COREN: There you go. You know everything, Michael Holmes. You really do.

HOLMES: Just throwing it out there.

COREN: Well, check this out. It's a newborn weighing in at a whopping 13 pounds. Just a little bit more.

HOLMES: I still say ouch. That's all I can say. We're going to talk with the doctor who delivered this bouncing baby girl.


HOLMES: Well, the birth of a child, always a big event in a woman's life, but it was an especially big event for one German woman.

COREN: You will see. Her baby was one of the largest babies ever born in that country. Well, the little girl, if we can call her little, 13 pounds, 5 ounces, almost 23 inches long. And, get this, she was born naturally, Michael. No c-section.

HOLMES: No c-section. That is the real talking point.

COREN: I don't even know how that's possible.

HOLMES: I don't either.

Joining us now by telephone is the doctor who delivered the baby.

Doctor Holger Stepan.

And, doctor, how smooth did the birth go? I can't imagine it was too easy, or was it?

Dr. HOLGER STEPAN (via telephone): Yes, this was really an exceptional birth. We did not expect that weight of the baby. Because of the obesity of the mother and the fact that diabetes was not diagnosed during the pregnancy, we expected a large baby, but we were very surprised about this weight, over six kilos.

COREN: You mention diabetes. She has gestational diabetes, which can actually cause a baby to be a lot bigger.

STEPAN: Correct.

COREN: Were there any complications, though?

STEPAN: Sorry?

COREN: Were there any complications in the delivery of this baby?

STEPAN: No. We were able to avoid a c-section, so this baby was born on the natural way. But the problem of such big babies is that the shoulder of the baby is blocking the birth after the head is already born (INAUDIBLE) and this actually occurred in this delivery. But we were able to solve this problem and now the baby is fine.

HOLMES: Why not do a caesarian section? I'm curious. I certainly know in the United States that might have been the preferred way to go, but in Europe it's less common, right?

STEPAN: Absolutely. And I understand the rational (ph) of your question. And the answer is, that women have given birth to two previous large babies, not 6 kilos but 4 kilos, and we were unable to assess this weight of the baby precisely because ultra sound is unable to differentiate to weight between five and six kilos. So we just did not know that this baby is that large. And a c-section in (INAUDIBLE) is also a procedure with substantial complications. HOLMES: Unbelievable. Well, congratulations to you and the successful birthing of that baby, and to the mother too.

STEPHAN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Hopefully she's recovering well. Dr. Holger Stepan there.

COREN: You have to think you're (ph) in a bit of pain.

HOLMES: You got to think.

COREN: Just a little.

HOLMES: I mean, you know, I'm no woman, but I -- wow. OK. Enough said.

COREN: Moving on.

HOLMES: Oh, yes, to this again. The "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy. A popular series. You may remember we had a discussion about that yesterday with Atika Shubert. But there is one place where this book's popularity may surprise you. We'll explain that when we come back.


COREN: Welcome back to AROUND THE WORLD.

Well, now for some headlines trending online.

Lady Gaga now says the reason she cancelled her world tour is because she had a broken hip.

HOLMES: That's a good excuse. She said she had a hole in her hip the size of a quarter. Yes, she told "Women's Wear Daily" the doctor told her she would need a full hip replacement if she did just one more show on her "Born This Way" (INAUDIBLE) tour.

COREN: Well, Gaga says she has been recuperating for six months and is planning to make a comeback performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August.

HOLMES: Yes, that would hurt, wouldn't it, a hole in your hip.

Now, I love this story. This South Korean golf sensation, you see her there, she could make history this week. Inbee Park is her name. And if she wins the women's British Open Championship, she's going to be the first player in history to win the four professional majors in the same calendar year, which is the true grand slam of golf.

COREN: Exactly. The tournament is taking place in Scotland this week. Best of luck to her.

HOLMES: She is having a great, great year. Again, she's terrific.

COREN: And here's one of those wow moments that we love to show you here on CNN. And if you have a fear of heights, like me, grab hold of something. HOLMES: There you go. All right. Good.

COREN: Michael. Yes, (INAUDIBLE).

This is -

HOLMES: This is - this is southwest China. Check this out. Two massive hot air balloons and between them you're watching a Guinness World Record being broken.

COREN: A Chinese dare devil, in every sense of the word, walked from one balloon to the other on a steel rod less than two inches wide.

HOLMES: Ah, easy. You know high wire walking between two buildings or over a canyon, that is so yesterday.

COREN: He made the walk, 60 feet to the other side with no safety net. I don't know what these people are on when they do these (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: Yes, I always come back to these and just go, why? I mean, really, why?

COREN: Because you get on CNN. That's why.

HOLMES: That's true.

All right, what do you think would be the most popular book read by detainees at Guantanamo Bay?

COREN: No idea.


COREN: Tell me.

HOLMES: Well, I'm going to tell you. It's going to blow your mind. U.S. military officials say it is "Fifty Shades of Grey."

COREN: Well, for the uninitiated, if you weren't watching our show yesterday, that's the wildly successful series of erotic novels that make most readers blush.

HOLMES: Yes, it's extraordinary, isn't it really? This delegation from the U.S. Congress just came back from Guantanamo and they say that officials told them that detainees have access to a library of books and movies and one congressman says the "Fifty Shades" books are requested by those at Guantanamo more often than the Koran. You know, I -

COREN: Really?

HOLMES: I don't know. I'm not buying it. I don't - I'm just not. I'm actually not buying it.

COREN: This is good publicity for that book. Not that it needed any.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

All right, thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. Thanks for your company today. I'm Michael Holmes.

COREN: And I'm Anna Coren. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.