Sierra Leone: Escaping Child Marriage in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone/Johannesburg, South Africa – “According to our tradition, a girl should get married when she reaches puberty,” said Zainab Binta Jalloh, a 23-year-old from Sierra Leone’s Koinadugu District. She would know – she was married when she was 15 years old.

Two years early, when she was only 13, a 45-year-old man approached her parents with a marriage proposal.

“He was rich, and he was using his wealth to influence my parents. My parents were pressuring me about him every day,” she told UNFPA.

But she was opposed to marrying so young. “I always resisted them,” she recalled.

National Girls’ Camp

Child marriage is a human rights violation, one that threatens girls’ lives and health. Child brides may become pregnant before their bodies are ready, and they are highly vulnerable to abuse. They are often forced to drop out of school, limiting their future prospects.

Ms. Binta Jalloh knew she needed help avoiding child marriage.

“I explained my situation to a friend, and she advised me to join the Children’s Forum Network. Through the network, I was fortunate to be part of the National Girls’ Camp.”

 The week-long girls’ empowerment camp, organized by the Office of the First Lady and UNFPA, teaches girls about their health and human rights. It also teaches them financial literacy, computer skills, comprehensive sexuality education, and about advocacy and activism.

The girls, selected from a wide range of backgrounds, also received support from a mentor. “I learned from women who would become my role models through their inspirational stories,” Ms. Binta Jalloh said.

Still, when she returned home, her parents could not be persuaded that she would have more potential if she avoided child marriage.

They demanded that she marry the man they had chosen.

“This time, my parents told me they would disown me if I continued to decline the marriage. I was left with no choice,” she said. “I married him.”

A nightmare unfolds

The marriage was a nightmare, Ms. Binta Jalloh said.

 Her husband was already married. “Can you imagine he had another wife who is older than my mother? This had been unknown to my parents and I,” she said.
 AllAfrica 27 MARCH 2018

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