Within the child marriage discourse certain problematic assumptions are treated as a given. The child bride is represented as the perpetual victim; a Western notion of childhood is presented as universal at the expense of silencing counter-narratives; and the child bride’s potential for agency is excluded from the discourse, reinforcing her status as a victim. Analytical tools that highlight the faults within the human rights movement are seldom applied to the child marriage discourse. By applying the work of critical theorists to the child marriage discourse issues such as race, unequal power relations, and colonial aftereffects are brought to the foreground of the discussion. Incorporating alternative narratives of childhood as well as countering the dominant narrative of victimhood by recognizing the potential for agency can significantly improve the discourse on child marriage. The case of Nujood Ali encompasses all of these factors. Her case not only challenges the human rights conception of childhood by highlighting instances of agency at a young age but also counters the dominant narrative of victimhood.


School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

Degree Name

MA in International Human Rights Law

First Advisor

Sayed, Hani

Committee Member 1

Badawi, Nesrine

Document Type



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