Lamna had plans to become a doctor, a typical goal for top brilliant but poor girls in Northern Ghana. In November 2020, Lamna and I returned home after a long day at school.There was a gathering in Lamna’s family’s house which was unusual outside of holiday season. Her family and her relatives were preparing food and drinks. Lamna began crying when her mother told her that she was getting married the following Sunday to a 56-year-old man who she had not met before. The marriage was dictated by Lamna’s family in order to use her bride price for survival as her father has lost his job due to the economic crises caused by the COVID-19 global Pandemic.
Now Lamna became the 6th and youngest housewife with 6 months pregnant trying to survive and struggling with her health. This is not only Lamna’s story but is, unfortunately, the story of many girls in the Northern Region of Ghana. Lamna’s dream to be a doctor was cut short. This was a big loss for her as she had a vision for a better life. It is also a lost opportunity for Ghana, given the number of physicians in Ghana is very small. Unless serious action is taken to end child marriage, many young women will follow a similar story to Lamna, and child marriage will remain one of the major obstacles to Ghana’s social and economic development.
Her story was brought to the attention of our End Child Marriage Programme by her teachers and we quickly respond. Child marriage exposes girls to abuse, exploitation and early pregnancy. 15-year-old Lamna was married off to a 56-year-old rich man last year’s November in a quest to alleviate the family’s poverty worsen by the COVID-19 pandemic, this became her reality. HACEP-Ghana protect 5,000 Girls from Child Marriage in Ghana Project worked alongside the Traditional Authority and opinion leaders in her community to help her regain confidence, return to education and change her life.
Today, Lamna’s marriage has been annulled and she is back to school with her pregnancy whiles her husband and his family are demanding the return of their bride price with interest to a tunes of $500 as compensation for allegedly drugging the name of the family in the mud and turning them into an object of radicle in the community. This would not have been possible without you. Your donations have provided a rare opportunity for Lamna to start a new life and she is set to chase and achieve her dreams of becoming a medical doctor. Lamnas’ boldness to return to school with her pregnancy amidst the stigma and discrimination from her peers and community inspired so many girls in similar situation to open up, stand up and speak up against gender-based violence and the harmful traditional practices of child marriage in the region.
Last month112 girls from 10 different communities in Northern Ghana stood up to return to school with their pregnancies with the support of our End Child Marriage programme. These girls are now strong young activist for the voiceless, they are doing incredible work in their communities educating their person Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), teaching them about their basic and fundamental human rights and standing against child marriage as a harmful traditional practice that stifles girls ability to achieve their full potentials and participation in society and in decision making process in Northern Ghana.
The action against child marriage should begin with understanding the problem and its socio-economic impact on society. The reason why child marriage is still prevalent in Ghana is because of a lack of understanding of the problem and the associated lack of commitment from stakeholders. This is because the stakeholders are unable to see child marriage as an imminent danger that is taking away the bright future of young girls and its huge burden on the general economy. Increasing understanding of the problem and raising awareness of its negative impact will be a great impetus to tackle child marriage.
These extraordinary young girls now represent a very powerful voice and exceptional human rights defenders’ network and community watch-dogs looking out for their peers and girls at higher risk of child marriage in Northern Ghana. Lamna has this to say last week at the palace of the King of Northern Ghana (Overlord of Dagbon Kingdom) in a short meeting to annul yet another 32 child marriages with the support of the Dagbon Traditional Council, Norther Regional House of Chiefs and HACEP-Ghana protect 5,000 Girls from Child Marriage in Ghana Programme.
“We need girls and women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored. Gender based violence won't end, because of revenge, lies, hypocrisy and double standards, but it will end when we speak the truth always, doing what is right and the law doing what is right without fear or favor.”
With your support we can Raise legal standards, join hands and change values and norms that has consistently marginalized girls and women for centuries. Most countries have a minimum age of 18 for marriage. If the law requires a higher age than 18, the society will strive to meet the standard and this will improve the culture of marrying at an early age.
All stakeholders (both government and private actors) should join hands and have a common strategic plan and subdivide responsibility for achieving it. Changing values and norms of a society which encourages child marriage. Working on religious leaders, traditional elders, parents, men, boys and girls in raising their understating about the harmful effects of child marriage are a way to change these values and norms.
Thank you for being an important part of the solution to end child marriage in Ghana.
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