Ending violence against children with knowledge acquired from child-to-child school clubs
"My mother accepted the proposal because she couldn’t afford to continue paying for my education. She told me that if I got married, my husband would help me and my family.”
Nampula, Mozambique – “A neighbour told my mother that she had a nephew who could marry me. My mother accepted the proposal because she couldn’t afford to continue paying for my education. She told me that if I got married, my husband would help me and my family,” said 16-year-old Grade Alice Bernardo, with a trembling voice.
Alice is a seventh-grade student at Injovela Primary School, in Murrupula District, which is about 80 km from the provincial capital, Nampula. She dreams of being a teacher one day. She continued to tell us her story as she wiped tears from her eyes, “I was shocked that my own mother was pushing me out of the house and forcing me to marry.”
Fortunately, before the arranged marriage was scheduled, Alice joined 17 girls and boys in a training of student facilitators for her school’s child-to-child club known as “Circles of Interest”. The training, which was funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), teaches student facilitators how to lead peer-level discussions on relevant topics and build life skills. During the session on gender, Alice learned that children must not be forced to get married and that children have a right to an education.
The trained student facilitators organized activities at schools addressing topics such as hygiene, health, culture, sports, and gender. The activities included debates, singing, dancing, drama, and writing poetry about these topics.
After Alice learned that early and forced marriages were illegal, she decided to talk to a friend who had also participated in the Circles of Interest before. Her friend wisely suggested talking to their teacher, Ms. Luisa Armando, who is the Gender Focal Point at their school. Ms. Luisa listened carefully to Alice’s story and reminded her of the discussions they had had in the Circles of Interest related to child marriage. The teacher also invited Alice’s mother to school to talk about Alice’s concerns, but her mother did not change her mind about Alice’s marriage.
Since Ms. Luisa could not resolve the situation with Alice’s mother, she activated a multi-sectoral response mechanism that facilitates a coordinated response to violence against children. As a result, the case was immediately communicated to the school director, the Gender Focal Point at the District Education Office, and forwarded to the local police. The police met with Alice’s mother and explained that she could not force her daughter to marry and warned her that she could be convicted. “We are happy that Alice was able to continue her education and thrilled that she passed her class. She will start Grade 8 next year,” said her teacher, Ms. Luisa.
Ms. Rosa Cipriano António, the director of Injovela Primary School, was equally happy. “It's good to know that the messages we convey to children in the Circles of Interest club are being embraced and taken seriously by the students. Children understand that a hostile family situation like the one Alice experienced requires the support of other children who participate in the club, as well as the Gender Focal Point teachers at school.”
Ms. Marinela de Fátima Martins, the Gender Focal Point at the District Education Office who reported the case to the police, emphasized the important role of the Circles of Interest clubs. “If Alice had not participated in the club, she may have been a lost case, because she would not have known how to make her voice heard.”