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“School comes first, marriage comes later” declares girls’ rights defender in Chad

According to Adam, “sexuality” is a taboo subject in Chad, which parents almost never talk about with their children. Credit: AJAC.

“Child marriage is a reality in Chad; it is practiced almost everywhere,” explains Adam Abakar Kayaye from the Young People’s Association Against Division (AJAC), one of the first organisations to become a member of Girls Not Brides. For decades, Adam has been working relentlessly to promote women’s rights and to lead campaigns against child marriage in Chad. Within his family, this has even earned him a nickname, ‘Mr. Human Rights’!

For Adam, committing to address child marriage is necessary and inevitable in a country where the rates are among the highest in the world: according to UNICEF 72% of girls in Chad are married before they reach 18 years old.

Worried, but never giving up hope, Adam explains that child marriage is a practice across the entire territory of Chad, but that it is particularly widespread in regions where the population is majority Muslim. In these communities, girls are often given in marriage as soon as they reach puberty, even though they are not physically or emotionally ready.

One of the reasons explaining the persistence of child marriage is that most parents worry that their daughters will engage in pre-marital sexual activity — which, in Chad, is a source of shame for the family. According to Adam, “sexuality” is a taboo subject in Chad, which parents almost never talk about with their children.

Worried about protecting their children from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, many parents see child marriage as a precaution. However, this decision has severe repercussions on young girls’ health, even risking death in childbirth because a girl’s body is not physically ready. Girl brides are also more exposed to sexual violence. They are rarely in a position to negotiate for safe sexual relations and because of this they are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

Faced with this overwhelming situation, AJAC has developed a new strategy to generate awareness among the population at all levels of society. Adam explains how AJAC uses networks of young people to familiarise girls with family planning and instruct them on other subjects linked to sexuality. AJAC invites communities to their discussion meetings on child marriage and violence against women, projects films and plays and informs young people about the consequences of child marriage through games and other interactive activities.

It goes without saying that mobilising parents is essential, as it is often they who make the decision the send their children to be married. AJAC informs parents about the grave dangers faced by girls who marry too young, by telling parents, “school comes first, marriage comes later.”

At the community level, AJAC organises activities in partnership with schools, churches and mosques in order to create dialogue and to diffuse the message that child marriage is, truth be told, dangerous for children. The support of professors, village and religious leaders as well as the state — which has recently made a political declaration against marriage before the age of 18 — is necessary and brings hope for Adam and his colleagues.

According to Adam, the Girls Not Brides Partnership is a source of inspiration and motivation for AJAC. The innovative ideas shared by other members help Adam and his colleagues to improve their own work and strategy. Being a member of the Partnership also lets them know that they are not alone in face of this difficult task. “Before the Girls Not Brides meeting in Addis Ababa in June 2011, we didn’t know for example that we had colleagues in the UK who face the same phenomenon in their country,” explains Adam. There is no doubt that Adam’s determination equally is a source of inspiration for other activists working to end child marriage in other regions of the world.

To find out more about AJAC’s work, visit: