The boy who helps rescue child brides

In its latest annual report examining the rights of girls around the world, Plan emphasises that men and boys have a crucial role in helping to build gender equality. Here, 18-year-old Youssef tells the story of his work to help rescue girls from forced and early marriage.

Youssef is an 18-year-old student who lives in a rural town on the outskirts of Giza, the third largest city in Egypt.

Youssef, who lives his mother and his 15-year-old sister is part of a youth group that helps to rescue girls from forced marriages.

Girls marrying underage is a regular occurrence in Youssef’s community. Here Youssef talks about his personal battle against child marriage.

“I live in a rural town near Giza. Around here girls getting married young is commonplace. Some girls become child brides before they turn 16.

“A few years ago I was in school with a girl called Jasmeen. She was forced to marry her cousin when she was 14.

“She had no idea her family were planning this. When she was 13 she was pressured to get engaged against her will.

“Jasmeen’s father died when she was quite young. Her uncle – who is father of the groom – became the head of her family.

“When she got married when she had to drop out of school and there was little she could do about it. Her uncle arranged the whole thing.

“At the time I remember feeling that I wanted to do something to help Jasmeen.

I have a 15-year-old sister and I dread to think of her being made to marry against her will and going through a similar ordeal.
This is why I am part of a youth club that campaigns against child marriage

Youssef

“My friends wanted to help as well. But her husband isolated her and made it difficult for us to keep in contact with her.

“The last I heard she was pregnant. There was another girl called Zainab*. Her parents forced her to get married at 14.

“She dropped out of school and got pregnant soon after. But the pregnancy was traumatic and she suffered the first of two miscarriages.

“I have been told she still suffers from health problems because of what happened to her.

“My friends and I persuaded Zainab’s husband to allow her to return to school. She is 18 now and back in full time education.

“Jasmeen’s and Zainab’s situation had a profound affect on me. Both girls were child brides and went through a lot at such a young age.

“I have a 15-year-old sister and I dread to think of her being made to marry against her will and going through a similar ordeal.
“This is why I am part of a youth club that campaigns against child marriage.

“We have had some opposition from some sections of the local community, particularly from individuals who make a lot of money from these marriages.

“But we have also had backing from a local Sheikh and a group of lawyers who have joined forces with our club.
So that gives me hope.

“We came to the rescue of a 16-year-old girl who was under pressure to marry a cousin who was in his twenties.

“Her name was Shazia* and her father was planning to take her out of school. Some of my friends and I got together and were able to talk to Shazia’s family and persuade them to postpone the marriage.

“Now Shazia is a member of our group and helps us our activities.

“In recent months there has been so much change in Egypt. I hope to see a change in people’s views on child marriage, because it’s wrong for a girl or boy to be forced to marry”.

“I really believe that we can make difference on this issue. I know it won’t be easy and there is a long way to go.”

* The names of the child brides mentioned in this story have been changed.

This blog was originally posted by Plan UK.

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