5 October 2012: When the Taureg fled the fighting in northern Mali into neighbouring Burkina Faso they brought part of their culture with them – the practice of child marriage.
More than half of the 1,016 refugee girls, aged 11-17, living in Plan-supported camps in Burkina Faso (since escaping Mali in March) may already be either married or engaged.
In Taureg culture, early marriage is seen as a mechanism to prevent girls from having sex outside of marriage, which is regarded as a sin.
All too often these child brides are forced out of education and pregnancy can have a devastating effect on their health.
Speaking out for girls' rights
To combat the taboo subject Plan has set up peer-mentoring groups, comprising young people from the community, to encourage parents to speak with their children about the negative impact of early marriage.
The groups discuss and consider how an education can lift their daughters out of poverty, improve them socially and help them to do very practical and life-saving things such as read labels on medicine or prescriptions.
Plan Burkina Faso has also set up child-friendly spaces in the camps to allow children to have their own place where they can play, learn and enjoy a real childhood. Children have access to television, games and other activities. They are provided with meals and taught about hygiene and sanitation.
“Our unconditional and non-negotiable position is that all children must attend. There must be equal opportunity. It has to be for all 7,000 refugee children – and we are also inviting children from neighbouring villages,” says Plan Burkina Faso’s Child Protection Officer, Fatimata Nabias-Ouedraogo.