Real lives

Real lives

 

Child Marriage: The household must not compete with school

© UNICEF/Burkina Faso/2015/Tarpilga
15-years-old Adjaratou Amadou fled the village where she was forcibly married by her father. She is answering to the questions of the journalists

By Claude Tarpilga

This morning, the yard of the Provincial Directorate of Social Affairs in the city of Gorom-Gorom in the province of Oudalan is particularly filled with a pack of journalists. The press caravan visiting Gorom Gorom in the context of the communication campaign against child marriage and unintended pregnancies listens attentively to a girl, the head covered with black scarf with white embroidery. Adjaratou Amadou, 15, answered questions from journalists in a serene tone.

Adjaratou was only 11 when she was forcibly married off by her father. Her husband, who was 37, forbade her to take the primary school certificate exam under the pretext that her place was at home for housekeeping, despite the fact that Adjaratou was the top student of her class. Not to dishonor her parents, she was expected to comply with the injunctions of her husband.
Fortunately, within a few months after the marriage, her aunt alerted Social Affairs services, who then them managed to snatch her from the clutches of her husband. Ajaratou’s first refuge was her aunt’s house. To avoid having to face reprisals from Adjaratou’s father, her aunt sent her to her grandmother Nahan, a very authoritarian and respected old woman, to ensure her shelter.
Taken in by her grandmother who lives in Dori, Adjaratou could reconnect with the school thanks to the support from the Child Protection Network of the province of Oudalan, established with the support from UNICEF. "I was attending the provincial high school of Dori back then. When I went on holiday to my home village four years ago, my dad gave me out for a marriage. I managed to run away to come to my grandmother. I continue to attend the high school and moved up to grade 3," she said.

Child marriage has cultural basis. If there is something in the Sahel region that seriously undermines efforts to improve access to education, retention and completion of girls in school, it is child marriage. According to Natama Talardia, Director of Social Action and National Solidarity of the province of Oudalan, 113 cases were recorded in 2014 in the Sahel region, including 14 cases from the province of Oudalan. In the first half 2015, the province already had 6 cases of child marriages.

To tackle this phenomenon, UNICEF in partnership with the government is implementing a number of actions to promote the abandonment of child marriage and girls’ education in the Sahel region. In June 2015, a communication campaign for behavior change was initiated by the Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education (MESS) with UNICEF and the Canadian government financial support. A press caravan which has mobilized more than twenty journalists has crisscrossed four provinces of the Sahel region namely Soum, Séno, Oudalan and Yaga.
The phenomenon is difficult to apprehend because it occurs silently. "In general, the Social Action services are notified only when there is contestation by the victim herself, her mother or denunciation by a third party. Otherwise, parents come to pick up their daughters from classrooms to marry them off without the knowledge of teachers", said the director.

In the Sahel region, children often come to school with already marriage promised to them, often ever since the day of their birth. Even some married students attend school, oftentimes waiting often the first pregnancy to abandon school, in the case of girls.
The refusal of the girl to submit to marriage entails disengagement of parents regarding school support. Even if some parents get sensitized on the issue, they remain prisoners of the weight of the dowry. "Sometimes parents have difficulties to return the dowry to set their daughter free. Therefore, they do everything to maintain her to her husband, because if she goes, parents will be forced to pay back the dowry, "says Awa Ibrahim, one of 'model mothers' present in the meeting.  "But we continue to reiterate to parents that the place of the girl is in school," she added. It is therefore extremely important to sensitize the parents so that they do not engage their children for marriage at all in the first place.

The customary divorce being not yet consummated by the reimbursement of the dowry, Adjaratou’ in-laws constantly beg her to come back on her decision and to join her husband in the village. "I don’t want to leave because I want to continue my studies, and moreover, I don’t love him. I will not return to the village. I want to succeed in my baccalaureate exam”, she replied.

 

 
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