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Break the cycle: less child marriage and more access to education for girls

Photo credit: The Girl Effect

This blog was originally posted on World Pulse, a media network powered by women from 190 countries that lifts and unites women’s voices to accelerate their impact for the world. World Pulse is a member of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.

What happens when a young girl is forced into marriage? Her right to education is ceased. This was the case of my mother who was forced into marriage by her own father when she was just 12 years old

When I asked my mother why her father married her off to a man 15 years older than her, she said the major reason was because, in my grandfather’s eyes, she was a girl and educating her was not his priority: “What is the point of wasting money on somebody else’s wife?”

That’s the way my grandfather viewed her at the age of 12 – somebody else’s wife. He questioned the reason for sending girls to school, claiming that after being educated by their parents they carry their wealth to their husband’s homes.

Unfortunately, my father is no longer here for me to find why an educated man like him accepted to marry a girl and refused to send her school despite the fact that my mother stayed in his house for five years before God could bless her with a baby.

My interview with a man who married a 13 year-old girl

My mother married as a child 50 years ago, but sadly this practice still happens. I recently learned that my neighbour, who is a retired military person, removed a girl a secondary school and married her. She was just 13 years-old.

I wanted to speak to him and get some ideas behind the reasons for early marriages in my community. Here’s my interview:

Fevelyn: Good morning Mr. Peter.
Mr Peter: Good Morning

Fevelyn: Please can I know why you got married to a young women who was still in school and had a full life ahead of her?
Mr. Peter: I wanted to help her parents because they were poor.

Fevelyn: Did the parents complain to you about their poverty?
Mr. Peter: No, they did not. But when I propose the idea of marrying their daughter, they had no objection and readily gave her to me.

Fevelyn: Did you seek your to-be wife’s opinion before consulting her parents?
Mr. Peter: Why should I seek her opinion? A woman has no voice in this matter.

Why should I seek her opinion? A woman has no voice in this matter.

Husband of child bride

This is an interview that took place in April 2013. In this modern time, some men still believe that women have no right to a voice even in situations that concern them directly. Mr. Peter’s comments reflect the way men view women in my community, which is highly patriarchal.

I also talked to his young wife and asked her why her father decided to marry her off without her concern. She told me that her parents thought Mr. Peter, a civil servant, had come to help their family. It was prestigious for them to marry her off to a “responsible man” whom they believe will solve their financial problems

Though she did not love the man, her opinion did not count in this matter. The marriage had been sealed by her parents; she had no choice but to must abide by their decision. Her parents threatened to disown her if she refused to marry this “wonderful and God sent in-law”.

Why does child marriage persist in Cameroon?

There are many reasons why child marriage still happens in my community, in my country. Here are a few more:

  • Cultural belief: Some communities believe that if a girl becomes pregnant in their home, the consequences of the sins she has committed is shared between her and her parents. So in order to avoid such punishment for a crime committed by their daughter, they will want to marry her off at a very young age.
  • Gender: Many fathers prioritize the education of his sons. He will prefer to send boys to schools while the girls are pushed into early marriages.
  • Teenage pregnancy: Some parents though poor may have realized the importance of education and thus work very hard to ensure that all their kids are educated. Unfortunately some girls will be forced to drop out of school because of unwanted pregnancy which is not acceptable in Cameroonian schools.

How can we break these barriers in order to have many more girls in schools?

  • Government should provide free education from primary to high school not only by removing fees but also providing small loans which can help students buy academic materials, such as textbooks or school uniforms.
  • Cultural and traditional beliefs that hinder girl’s access to education should be tackled.
  • Parents, especially mothers who were not given the opportunity to go to school, should have the opportunity to get vocational training, make small businesses or work on their farms and sell some of their produce in other to raise capital to educate their female children.