From Morocco to Chad: the caravan to end child marriage that transcends borders

Adam, from Chad, and Moroccan members of the caravan to end child marriage. | Photo credit: AJAC.

To mark the launch of a new learning exchange programme between Girls Not Brides members, we look back on one of the first exchanges ever organised between Morocco and Chad. Find out more about the learning exchange and how to apply here.

Every year, dozens of activists travel to Morocco’s most remote regions to raise awareness of child marriage. Since 2011, the Fondation YTTO, a Moroccan organisation working to end gender-based violence, goes to villages in the Atlas Mountains to encourage families to educate their daughters, not marry them off.

Last summer, Adam Kakaye Abakar, the founder of AJAC, a girls’ education organisation from Chad and a member of Girls Not Brides, joined the caravan. His goal? To learn from this unconventional approach and bring it to Chad.

“The reality [of child marriage] in the north of Chad is the same reality as that in Morocco,” explains Adam. “In the villages we went to, families did not like to talk about their daughters’ periods, they feared that it would encourage them to have sex outside of marriage. So parents withdraw girls from school. Then they get married. It is the same back home. If we are finding similar causes and challenges, then why shouldn’t we implement similar solutions?

Najat Ikhich, founder and director of Fondation YTTO, talks to women during the caravan. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides.

Najat Ikhich, founder and director of Fondation YTTO, talks to women during the caravan. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides.

YTTO’s caravan is complex and made up of several “commissions”. Each have a role in talking to girls and their families and offering the support that they need. The social commission listens to and logs the complaints villagers have, including cases of child or forced marriages. Women and girls are then encouraged to visit the justice commission where they receive practical advice to claim their rights, especially if they are abandoned by their husbands.

The legal commission logs citizen's complaints and civil registration status. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides.

The legal commission logs citizen’s complaints and civil registration status. Photo credit: Girls Not Brides.

The medical commission organises individual and group consultations, including on sexual and reproductive health for adolescent girls, and warns families of the dangers of child marriage. Finally, a culture and arts commission works with children, using paint, drawing or poetry to discuss topics that matter to them. Many girls speak of the limited opportunities they see for themselves beyond marriage.

A drawing session with school children during the caravan. Photo credit: Tariq Saiidi.

A drawing session with school children during the caravan. Photo credit: Tariq Saiidi.

Since the exchange, Adam has put into practice what he learned while caravanning in the Atlas Mountains. In October 2015, he organised a caravan on child marriage in the capital city of Chad, N’Djamena, in partnership with two Girls Not Brides members – ASTBEF and CONAJELUS – and with the support of UNFPA.

Adam organised a similar caravan in the capital city of Chad, N'Djamena. Photo credit: AJAC.

Adam organised a similar caravan in the capital city of Chad, N’Djamena. Photo credit: AJAC.

Over two days, the caravan went door-to-door in the city’s districts to talk to families about the impact of child marriage on girls’ health and education, drawing on YTTO’s model of community dialogue.

Adam is not planning on replicating all of the caravan’s aspects, however. “There are activities that would not work [in our context]. The legal commission for instance. People would feel exposed, even marginalised, if they were to ask for advice in public, even if they need it.”

An activist from Mali talks to children during the caravan. Photo credit: Tariq Saiidi.

An activist from Mali talks to children during the caravan. Photo credit: Tariq Saiidi.

It is not the first time that activists attempt to replicate YTTO’s caravan. Every year, the Foundation invites activists from around the world to take part. In 2013, activists from Mali and Algeria, as well as members of the Girls Not Brides team, took part in a caravan near Ouarzazate. The caravan has since been replicated in Mali.

Adam was not the last to join the caravan either. “There are always benefits to involving partners from other countries,” explain Najat Ikhich, the founder and director of Fondation YTTO. “The caravan is a tool for grassroots activists to change mentalities. If other countries replicate this approach, our claims [to end child marriage] will become truly global.”

Despite a promising start in Chad, Adam’s project has been halted due to funding issues. Activists in Nigeria and Senegal also tried to organise a caravan, but could not raise the funding for it. This is a common problem for grassroots organisations, including for Fondation YTTO, that are working to change social norms over a long period of time.

Girls Not Brides members take part in a learning exchange with Tostan in Senegal.

Girls Not Brides members take part in a learning exchange with Tostan in Senegal. Read more about the training here

Since its creation, Girls Not Brides has called for increased funding and support for grassroots organisations who, by working day in day out with girls, their families and communities, are integral to changing social norms and behaviours that perpetuate child marriage.

Girls Not Brides champions mutual learning between members in order to strengthen their work. That is why we are launching a pilot programme of learning exchanges that will enable Girls Not Brides members to take part in community projects, learn from them and apply their learnings to their own work.

The first call for applications, which will help us select four host projects, is open until September 1st. Girls Not Brides members will be then be invited to apply to take part in one of the four exchanges. For more information, please read our Frequently Asked Questions