Every year, around the world 10 million girls under the age of 18 enter into early and forced marriages. In Cameroun, it is estimated that 36% of girls are married before they are 18. But in the Extreme North of Cameroun, where IWHC’s partner APAD is based, nearly 80% have experienced an early and forced marriage. APAD (in English, Association for the Promotion of the Independence and Rights of the Girl Child) is led by young women who are survivors of child marriage. They work to empower girls like them, and to make sure survivors are able to tell their stories, demand social change, and survive on their own.
This spring when IWHC visited with APAD, they shared some of their stories and explained how they are working to change the cultural values that lead to girls being married off as children.
Watch our new video and read the stories below to learn about the experiences of these amazing young women and find out about what you can do to support local indigenous organizations working to ensure that all girls have a choice and a chance.
Three things you can do right now to help end early and forced marriage:
- Support our partner APAD directly.
- Share this video on Facebook and Twitter.
- Write a letter or tweet to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to end child marriage.
Read more about the women of APAD below!
When Danedjo was old enough to start secondary school, she moved to her uncle’s house in Maroua, because her small village only had a primary school. When she was 14 her uncle wanted her to marry a man in his mid-30s - Danedjo would become his second wife. Just a few months before the wedding was planned to take place, her friend Aisha, who is a social worker, helped her escape her uncle’s house to avoid the marriage. While living at Aisha’s she worked hard to earn money during the day and attend school at night. She also attended the weekly meetings atAssociation de Lutte contre les Violences faites aux Femmes(ALVF), a national organization that works to end violence against women, where she met other young women who either survived or, like her, were able to avoid the marriage. They organized themselves and established APAD to fight against these practices so other girls would not have to fall victim to early marriage. She is especially concerned with making sure girls stay in school and get an education.
At 13 years old, Izatou’s father married her off to an older man. He was worried that she might get pregnant outside of marriage and thought it was best to get her married as soon as possible. For two years, she survived her husband’s abuse, but when she became pregnant at 15 and her husband not only continued to beat her but also refused to feed her, Izatou knew she needed to escape. She had met Mairamou, one of the leaders of APAD, at a community meeting. Mairamou told Izatou about APAD and the sewing lessons they give to young women in similar circumstances. Mairamou also opened her home to provide a safe place for Izatou to live while she attended lessons. Now 18, Izatou hopes to go back to school and become a teacher someday.
When she was 12 years old, Mairamou was sent to marry her fathers’ friend, who was in his late forties at the time. Her husband mistreated and neglected her but she had been taught to obey her father and then her husband so she stayed. Then she met Germaine, the director for the Centre Vie de Femme at ALVF Extreme North and she secretly started going to meetings at ALVF with other young women in similar circumstances to learn about her rights as a woman. One day when her husband was out of town on business, she saw her opportunity to escape. She traveled far away from Maroua to live in hiding for two months. When she returned to her parents’ home to explain the situation, her family rejected her and told to go back to her husband. She and several other survivors of early and forced marriage were learning basic skills to carry out income generating activities and earn their own money with the help of ALVF. At first, her father was reluctant to accept her back into the family, but with the support of her peers at APAD, her parents accepted her. Now, her parents are very supportive of Mairamou and her work with APAD.
At 13, Djenabou was sent away from home to be married to her cousin, who was in his mid-30s. After seven months, she became pregnant, and shortly after that her husband died of typhoid, leaving her with no means of support. Instead of marrying her brother-in-law, as was expected of her, she returned to her parents’ house to have a very difficult childbirth. Soon after giving birth to her son, Djenabou’s parents became abusive and began blaming her for the economic strain on the family. When she was 14, her sister, Danedjo, snuck her out of their parents’ house in the village to bring her to APAD in Maroua to get some support and encouragement. Djenabou eventually became a member of APAD where she feels inspired by the girls and women they work with.
Djamila was raped by an older man when she was just 11; the assault left her pregnant and with no support. An older woman she knew from her neighborhood had heard about APAD’s work and called them for help. APAD stepped in to advocate for Djamila and support her in making a decision about what she wanted to do. Djamila’s body was too small for natural childbirth, so she had to have a caesarean section. She decided to put the baby up for adoption. Now she is living with an APAD member while she learns sewing and gains the skills to financially support herself. She has also become an advocate for other young girls and recently introduced a girl at risk of being forced into an early marriage to the members of APAD.