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In Chad, girls’ dreams robbed by marriage

By Badre Bahaji

By 2050, Africa is expected to surpass South Asia as the region with the highest number of child brides. Based on projections in a new UNICEF report on child marriage in Africa, the number of child brides across the continent could more than double to 310 million by 2050.

For one 15-year-old in Chad, the hope of an education and career was all but lost when her family married her off at age 12. Now the Government, with the support of UNICEF and other partners, has launched a campaign to end child marriage.

N’DJAMENA, Chad, 20 November 2015 – Like many girls her age, Amina Abdelrahman, 15, has big plans for her future. “My dream is to become a doctor, in order to help sick people,” she says with sparkling eyes.

© UNICEF Chad/2015/Gonzalez
Amina Abdelrahman, 15, with her two sons, Moustapha, 3, and Haroun, 1. Amina left school and was married at age 12.

But her future may not be as bright as her dreams. Her life took a serious turn at age 12, when she left school and got married. This young girl is already mother of two children. Her two sons, Moustapha, 3, and Haroun, 1, are living with her in a single-room house made of clay. 

Amina doesn’t live in a small village or an isolated region, but in a busy neighbourhood in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena. In her tiny house, the smell of bakhoor (incense) and the colourful decorations create a cozy atmosphere, despite the simplicity of the room.

“I went to primary school for two years only, and I had to leave it because I was the only girl in my family and the elder of my siblings,” she says. “I had to help my mother, cooking and doing the housework. Just after I dropped out of school, my mother married me.”

Amina could see that an education would give her the ability to make her own decisions and the right to make her own choices. But these dreams were far beyond what her mother sees as a girl’s role in life: To get married, have children and look after her husband.

“When they told me I was getting married, I could not say anything,” she explains. “Even if I had have said something, my mother would not have accepted it. So I just let them marry me, just like our mothers did before us.”

Deprived of opportunity

At 15, many girls might just think about how to make the best of their life. Every year, however, 15 million girls are married as children, deprived of the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and ambitions.

“When I was living with my brothers and my mother, all my brothers went to school,” Amina says. “I used to envy them. I wish I could go back to school right now and be like my brothers. I would love to get a job, build my own house and take care of my children.”

Child marriage is a widespread practice in Chad, with almost 7 out of 10 girls married before age 18. Many parents believe marriage is in their daughter’s best interest. Particularly in areas of high poverty, parents may marry their daughters for financial reasons.

But child brides are also more likely to drop out of school, and because their bodies are not yet fully developed, they are not ready for childbirth, which can put their lives at risk.

© UNICEF Chad/2015/Gonzalez
“My dream is to become a doctor, in order to help sick people,” Amina says.

“A married young girl will lack of an opportunity to acquire the physical, emotional and educational skills they need to lead fulfilling lives,” says Philippe Barragne-Bigot, UNICEF Representative in Chad. “Child marriage puts not only children’s futures at risk, but endangers the development, peace and prosperity of their families, communities and the world.”

A new commitment

With the support of UNICEF and other UN agencies, a national campaign to end child marriage was launched in 2015 under the leadership of the President and the First Lady of the Republic of Chad, and in the framework of the African Union campaign to end child marriage.

“It is unacceptable that, nowadays, we continue to encourage child marriage. In all of our regions, we still continue to carry out this practicing, including female genital mutilation,” said Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno at the launch of the campaign.

“To end this practice, we must all commit ourselves – parents, families, community and religious leaders, decission makers, civil society,” he added. “We must be united with conviction against this fight.”

The national campaign against child marriage was driven at all level by extensive communication and social mobilization efforts. In March this year, the President signed a bill prohibiting the marriage of children under 18, and the bill was adopted by parliament in June.

Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go towards effective enforcement of the law, and substantial resources will be needed to implement programmes to support positive change and promote girls’ education, one of the most important tools for eliminating child marriage – and for turning their ambitions into reality.



UNICEF Photography: Escaping child marriage

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