Child Marriage in Sierra Leone, Let US Rise Against It!
“Most people simply do not know the extent of the problem. An estimated 25000 child marriages occur everyday. That’s mind-boggling, so much so that to many people it becomes abstract, unreal.” – Gavin Weston
According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2015, Sierra Leone was ranked 15th regarding the issue of child marriage.
However, much more needs to be done! The rate with which child marriage in the country declines is dropping. Between 2008 (48%) to 2015(44%), there has only been a four percent drop in the occurrence of child marriage in Sierra Leone. I do feel cases of child marriage might be higher this year if proper action is not taken. Why do I feel so? Ebola made things harder for most Sierra Leoneans. But I will expand on that later.
Child marriage is happening in plain sight. It took over in a deceitfully clever manner. It quite rapidly tore at the fabric of the Sierra Leonean society. And what’s also sad? The reasons that still perpetuate this cycle of early marriage.
Before I go further, I just want to state that I am not judging anyone or belittling anyone’s beliefs, customs or traditions. Who am I to judge when I have so many things about me that others could judge? But this is not about me or you. It is not about my hurt feelings or yours. It is about what is right! And just! And fair!
It is about writing (or speaking) the truth until something positive, constructive and innovative is done. It is about the future of a country, my country, your country. It is about what is best for the future leaders of tomorrow. It is about cultivating the best environment for growth for our children.
And therefore, I am going to tell you three main contributors to early marriage in Sierra Leone. Why? Because understanding the nature of these reasons makes it easier to find solutions to combat early marriage in Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone, early marriage hides under the cloak of:
1. Customs and traditions
I am proud to be Sierra Leonean. Our customs and traditions are part of who we are and part of our heritage. We should not forget our heritage no matter how advanced, affluent and educated we become. I am in favor of upholding some good old customs and traditions. I do believe that some of our customs and traditions are beautiful. BUT CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS THAT TRAMPLE UPON, DEGRADE AND MANIPULATE THE LIVES OF OTHERS SHOULD BE GONE WITH THE WIND. Period!
Where poverty thrives, all sorts of evil thrive. Poverty is all over the world but poverty is on another level in Africa, especially in post-ebola Sierra Leone. To be quite honest, it takes a whole lot of strength to resist certain thoughts and actions when you have to ponder on what your family is going to eat day in and day out. It takes a whole lot to resist certain temptations when you cannot provide the basic needs for your family. It takes a whole lot to not surrender to the easiest way out when life remains stagnant year in and year out.
So a lot of parents who are broken, tired and out of options choose to marry off their girls early just to lose a mouth to feed and to gain a hefty brideprice (which ain’t usually that hefty). Do I feel for parents in such circumstances? Yes! But does that give them the right to exploit rather than protect their children? Heck no!
3. Protecting family name
“You are not going to bring shame and disgrace into my family by having a child out of wedlock. You are going to get married.” – these are the typical words of a Sierra Leonean parent of a pregnant girl. Teen pregnancy is definitely on the rise in Sierra Leone (and I do believe there is a relationship between teen pregnancy and early marriage).
And in a society highly concerned about what others think, most parents, educated and uneducated, marry off their pregnant teens in a bid to preserve the dignity of the family. Therefore, a strong relationship between early marriage and teen pregnancy exists.
Shockingly, early marriage is so rampant in the country that quite a number of victims of early marriage glorify it. They do not actually perceive themselves as victims. But rather carry it as a crown on their head. Girls mock girls who are not married or pregnant or both at the age of 16. Can you imagine? A baby raising a baby? Sad! How will things get better in Mama Salone?
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf(Liberia)
A common denominator between each of these women is awareness and education. They were AWARE of the advantages and the long term gain of receiving a SOLID EDUCATION. And they worked hard at it. They persevered. They gave their all to it.
Awareness and solid education are the weapons I feel we need to use to eradicate early marriage in Sierra Leone. The mind set of the typical Sierra Leonean family unit needs to be changed regarding this issue. The advantages of education need to be preached in every nook and cranny of Sierra Leone until parents and children thirst for it. And this is where the government comes in!
In so many ways, Sierra Leonean children are not being equipped. They are not being made the utmost priority. Yes, I said it. And you can quote me on that.
You cannot preach “educate your girl child” when the educational system is in upheaval. Teachers are frustrated and frequently strike. Teachers are unqualified. Teachers exploit students.
You cannot shout from the mountaintop, “send your girl child to school” when you have not provided affordable and quality education that is easily accessible to EVERY Sierra Leonean child.
You cannot expect the average Sierra Leonean parent to put all their blood, sweat and tears into educating his children when the employment rate after gaining a bachelor’s degree is so miserably low! What incentive is there?
The government is trying in some ways but much more needs to be done. Much, much more! There is no greater investment than the investment in the young. Their well being. Their education. Children all over Sierra Leone need to have access to STANDARD QUALITY EDUCATION. They need to be shown that education is the way out of poverty, out of a life of shackles, out of early marriage and teen pregnancy.
Poor or rich, customs or no customs, we all should say no to early marriage!
In a bid to bring awareness to child marriage and end it especially in my home country, Sierra Leone, I created this t-shirt!
The shirt can be bought here: Teechip
What do you think are some effective solutions to ending child marriage in Sierra Leone? Let’s talk!
Remember, be sincerely you!