Mozambique: how Salmina avoided marriage with help from a local chief

Salmina fetching water for her house. | Photo credit: World Vision Mozambique

“The man came to our home one day in the afternoon and found us sitting after lunch,” recalls Salmina. “He told my father that he wanted to marry me.”

This came as a shock to Salmina. She listened quietly until the conversation was over. “I was unable to express my feelings or decide for myself”, the 16-year-old recalls.

After that meeting, Salmina did not hear from the man for a while. She hoped that he would give up his intentions. She was mistaken.

He returned again with a case of beer, soft drinks, and 1200 meticais (about 40 US dollars) for the presentation ceremony, as the custom requires in southern Mozambique. The ceremony took place and, soon, Salmina dropped out of school.

Many girls in Mozambique face similar challenges. Mozambique is one of ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world. One in two girls get married before age 18 and almost one in six gets married before 15.

Luckily, the news of Salmina’s marriage reached Hilário Vilanculos, a local chief and father of three. He called both Salmina’s father and her intended husband for a hearing.

Vilanculos is taking part in a Child Protection programme run by World Vision Mozambique which brings together influential figures, such as community leaders, local chiefs and government authorities, to show them the benefits of letting children continue their studies.

“My role is to educate my peers of the benefits of letting a child continue their studies instead of getting married early,” Vilanculos says. Speaking of Salmina’s situation, he adds: “This was not an easy process. The parents of the child had already received some money, and the man was not willing to change his interest.”

So he persevered. “To stop a matter like this one, you need to be brave. The future of a child is at stake.”

Salmina’s father explained that he had agreed to the marriage of his daughter because the man proposed and that was ‘normal’, but he was soon convinced that education promised his daughter a better future. “It was not easy for them to accept, but after in-depth explanations they realised that education is important,” Vilanculos explains.

Salmina was over the moon. “I was so happy to hear that the authorities had succeeded in convincing my father that I ran to share the news with my friend.” Looking back, her father agrees that it was the right thing to do. “It was good that she did not marry him. She will only marry when the time comes and with education concluded.”

World Vision’s Child Protection programme is improving the lives of many girls in Mozambique. “Before, children dropped out of school over early pregnancy and early marriage,” Vilanculos says. “Thanks to the awareness the Child Protection programme has brought, early marriages are declining. We have children, and especially girls, who study beyond basic education. Others even reach higher degrees!”

As for Salmina, her father promised to send her back to school.