In Togo, 1 in 5 girls is married before the age of 18. The rate of child marriage is higher in rural areas (39%) than in urban areas (19%).
Most of the married girls in Togo come from poor families. Marriage keeps girls in poverty and prevents them from becoming financially empowered and flourishing as individuals.
Married girls tend to drop out of school and have a low level of education without a decent understanding of sexual health issues or family planning. Because of persisting tradition and parental beliefs, the dreams of these girls are shattered.
Child marriage costs girls’ lives
Some of my college friends were married before 18. Unlike me, most of these girls experience domestic violence. They didn’t finish their studies and are unable to negotiate consensual, safe sexual relationships with their husbands.
Marriage keeps girls in poverty and prevents them from becoming financially empowered and flourishing as individuals.
These girls struggle to voice their opinions and be taken seriously. They have many children due to lack of family planning services and are at higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Some have even died when giving birth.
I started campaigning against child marriage when one of my cousins wed at 16. She was unable to choose her husband, continue her education or even simply enjoy her youth.
At her age I was already an advocate on issues relating to sexual and reproductive health, ending violence in schools and prevention of HIV-AIDS. But my cousin’s situation led me to start fighting against child marriage in Togo and become a defender of girls’ rights.
How can child marriage be stopped?
In Togo, the legal age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys. However, both can marry younger with parental consent. In traditional society, parents believe their honour comes from the marriage of their daughters. We must raise awareness among parents so they understand the harm they are doing by marrying their children off before 18.
Religious leaders officiate weddings and are listened to by the community, so they can be key to ending child marriage. Religious and traditional leaders can help parents understand that nowhere in the holy texts is it written that one must deprive a girl of her childhood or her chance to learn.
I believe that it should be compulsory for every girl enrolled in school to obtain her high school diploma. This way, by the end of her studies she will have more of an understanding of her rights and hopefully the confidence to claim them.
In addition, there should be legal implications for those who do not respect laws prohibiting child marriage. We must reinforce the whole community’s commitment to protecting vulnerable girls. One way to do this could be ensuring there is a birth certificate proving the 2 parties are at least 18 before a wedding can go ahead.
My dreams for the future
I want to be present in the rooms where decisions are made, so I can express girls’ needs and the problems we face.
In the future, I would like to become a translator and help solve the world’s problems through communication. I dream of being a spokesperson for girls in Togo and all of Africa, and a role model for others who wish to advocate for girls’ rights.
I want to be present in the rooms where decisions are made, so I can express girls’ needs and the problems we face. I also hope that in the future, the man who I choose as a husband agrees with my beliefs, and supports me.
Girls and allies must work together
I encourage all girls around the world to join the campaign against child marriage. If all the girls in the world and their allies stand together and say no to the marriage of our little sisters, together, we can bring about change. It’s time to bring an end to unfair and discriminatory social roles for girls.
Girls are strong, intelligent and have proven they can succeed in roles previously thought of as only for men. We just need the opportunity to prove it to the world. We can’t prove our worth if we are forced into early marriages by unequal societies that see less value in girls.