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Stop child marriage

CCFC intervenes to save a 13-year-old girl from a forced marriage to a 60-year-old man

By Sandra Upeslacis, CCFC’s director of Strategic Communications

I just returned from rural northern Ghana, where it’s uncomfortably hot and dry. Daily temperatures soared above 42˚C. Everywhere you turned, dust blew in your face. Dried yellow scrubs on the parched earth crunched under my feet as I walked across barren fields. I felt dirty and unhappy there often wasn’t anywhere nearby to wash or cool off. I was angry, too, because I met a lovely 14-year-old girl who recounted how her father tried to take her out of school and marry her off to a 60-year-old polygamist friend one year ago.

Child marriage is illegal in Ghana, but that doesn’t stop many families from continuing this harmful cultural practice, which denies girls their childhood, impedes them from completing their education and puts their health at risk.

According to UNICEF’s global “Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey – 2011,” 27 percent of girls in Ghana are illegally married before 18, compared to only five percent of boys.

The girl I met, Jabilar, is in Grade 8 at the local junior high school. She has a petite frame, a determined gaze and smiles widely when talking about her education. “I want to stay in school, because I want be somebody. I plan to be a teacher or a doctor one day,” she said wistfully.

At 13, Jabilar learned of her father’s intention to remove her from school and give her to his friend to be his spouse. Her father had promised the man his first-born daughter to honour his friend for helping on his farm years earlier. Jabilar had other plans; she instinctively knew the arranged union was wrong, and she’d been learning at school about her right not to be coerced into an early marriage. “How could I be a wife when I don’t even fully know what that means, or how could I look after a household when I’m still a girl?” she said.

Jabilar told her teacher her father’s plan. The school contacted Christian Children’s Fund of Canada’s (CCFC) local partner Tuma Kavi, which intervened to stop the early and forced marriage. Tuma Kavi representatives met with Jabilar’s parents and explained the illegality of what they were planning. Jabilar’s father relented, and he allowed his daughter to stay in school.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, let’s remember the countless girls around the world who are not saved from an early, forced marriage. According to the International Center for Research on Women, one-third of all girls in developing countries are married before 18; and one in five are married before 15. In 2012, 70-million women globally had been married before 18.

With child marriage, there is no empowerment for women. Let’s stop it once and for all.