During emergency situations, girls are at an increased risk of child marriage, and this is no different in Minawao camp in Cameroon, home to over 57,000 refugees. Plan International has been working alongside government social affairs services to prevent child marriages in the camp since January 2016.
I will choose my husband and get married when I am financially independent
Aisha, 15, fled the conflict in Nigeria with her family and settled in the camp. After facing financial difficulties, her father arranged for her to be married in return for money.
“My mother burst into tears. I asked what was wrong,” said Aisha. “She took me in her arms and replied: “Your father has made arrangements for your marriage. You will be leaving us soon.””
Early marriage common for refugees
Aisha’s case is not uncommon in Minawao refugee camp and other host communities in Cameroon’s Far-North Region.
Aisha’s mother said: “My husband collected the money and the handshake that followed between the men was enough to seal the marriage. How can people be so heartless?”
In response to this problem, Plan International shares information throughout the camp to raise awareness about the negative effects of child marriage. In addition, when cases of child marriage are identified we work directly with families to help them find other solutions.
Aisha’s mother said: “I got married at the age of 12. I was a baby myself when I delivered my first child. I went through severe pain and psychological trauma, and I ended up losing my baby. I don’t want my daughter to go through that too.”
Protection for girls
Aisha and her mother reported their situation to field community officers who work in close collaboration with Plan International to protect children in the camp. After several meetings with Aisha’s father, he agreed to register her for vocational training instead of marrying her off.
Aisha says: “I can sew blouses, skirts and stylish dresses, and I am very happy with this work. I will choose my husband and get married when I am financially independent and can take care of my children and husband.”
To date, we have identified 9 cases of early marriage in Minawao refugee camp, 7 of which were stopped with the support of government social affairs services. Two others are currently being discussed with the families involved.
With increasing numbers of refugees entering the country, we will continue to ensure children are protected from all forms of abuse, including child marriage.