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Somalia, 28 November 2016: Determined 14-year-old Zainab defied her parents on early marriage

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Ibrahim
Zainab (front row right) is happy to be studying with classmates at Kabasa Primary School in Dollow, South Somalia. Her parents however wanted her to get married.

By Hema Vinod, UNICEF Somalia Education Specialist

When I met 14 year old Zainab in the small town of Dollow in southern Somalia and heard her sad but inspiring story, I felt she was a great ambassador for girls’ rights.

Zainab loves her school and her classes even though she is older than many others in her 4th grade class. Every day is a challenge as she doesn’t have enough notebooks and her family is not interested in her education. But Zainab enjoys the time spent in class and in the school premises with other children – for her it is a lifeline.

Zainab’s childhood came to an end when her family tried to force her to get married. She ran away but is being told by her family every day she should go and join the husband they chose for her.

“They found a man for me, but I am not ready to be married,” she tells us.

The family live in a sprawling, makeshift camp in Dollow, for those who are displaced from their homes. Her mother is a daily wage labourer who struggles to make ends meet. Zainab is particularly angry with her father, who is separated from her mother and who, along with her brother, is pressurizing her to get married. She is still holding firm to her dream of an education and becoming an aid worker in the future. There is determination behind her smile as she shares this with us.

Her school, Kabasa Primary, caters to around 700 children from internally displaced communities at Dollow IDP camp. The school is supported through UNICEF’s Resilience Programme with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). UNICEF also supports activities such as the Child Right Clubs.

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Ibrahim
Zainab (right) chats with friends as they leave the class in Dollow, South Somalia. She defied her parents' efforts to make her leave school.

The Principal of the school, Ahmed Dahir Hassan brought her story to the attention of our UNICEF team when we visited the school. He told us that the pressures faced by this young girl turned her into a loner. Yahye Abdi, an education consultant based in Dollow, is exploring all possible avenues to help Zainab stay in school, including talking to her family and/or referring her to UNICEF supported NGO specializing in child protection.

Around seven girls in the school have dropped out due to early marriage this year alone. The Child Rights Club tries to educate the children on their rights and children in the club seem to know their rights well. This group could be harnessed to support Zainab and other girls like her who are being coerced to marry young. The support and knowledge provided by such a group could at the very least help Zainab and others like her remain steadfast against the current that is child marriage.

After speaking to us, I saw Zainab walking to her classroom. The steely resolve in her gait reminded me of words from a poem by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore: If they answer not to thy call, walk alone.



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