Stop early marriages!
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The youth summit held in Kinshasa on October 29, 2014, was a day filled with learning about early marriages and the disadvantages that they cause in young peoples’ lives, as well as a discovery of the many talents of children.
The summit brought together 80 children from different organizational structures: child reporters, students from the National Art Institute and Academy of Fine Arts, and children supervised by the NGO War Child; all accompanied by their supervisors.
At the beginning of the summit, we were briefed on early marriage before getting to work. As Esther, a former street child, now accompanied by War Child, told me, “Today, I learned that I can not enter into a marriage before adulthood. Marriage before adulthood comes with many consequences, such as having difficulties in childbirth such as the risk of death, without having fulfilled one’s dreams.”
After the presentation, there was a video in which we learned that a 12-year-old girl still needs guidance to distinguish good from bad. If a 12-year-old girl is already married, she runs into several dangers, including dropping out of school, contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and dying during childbirth. On the contrary, if a 12-year-old girl continues to go to school, meets regularly with a doctor, and is educated in all areas of life, then she will have a brighter future, which will continue into subsequent generations.
Following these presentations, Sabu, one of the young girls with War Child, shared her impressions with me: “It allowed me not only to be informed but also to leave behind my ignorance about the phenomenon of early and forced marriages. Marriage at the age of 12 has several consequences, like difficulties in childbirth that can lead to caesarean section; housework beyond one’s age; and the fact that the minor girl is not ready for marriage. In my case, it is important that parents prepare their daughters’ futures by educating them until they have reached adulthood, then allowing them to make the decision to get married.”
Just after the briefing, we split into four working groups: the first group worked on an action plan, the second on dancing and singing, the third on theatre, and the last on painting.
The first group, of which I was a part, had to develop a project plan proposal for the government to fight against early marriage. We decided to develop messages for the victims, for those who practice early marriage, and for the policymakers. We then decided how to distribute these messages: we preferred to use social networks for the youth, because they use them; for parents and the community, radio, television, and newspapers; and for policymakers, we decided to request hearings.
We set up a schedule for awareness raising sessions, using the media and field trips to those areas where early marriages take place, which are mainly rural. We proposed the establishment of a monitoring group of policymakers to ensure that the recommendations and the review process of the Family Code (in which the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years as stipulated in the law on child protection, rather than 16 years) lead to a solution.
The painting group made a beautiful portrait that showed the face of a girl who regrets having married early; on the other side, they drew another girl who said “no” to a marriage proposal and managed to finish her studies before marrying in adulthood.
The singing and dancing group wrote songs that encourage all girls to say no to early marriage and that show communities and parents the disadvantages of early marriage for young girls.
The theatre group, thinking in line with the others, made a play about a girl whose parents had her get married at 12 years old. Her father no longer had the means to provide for his family, and thought that her dowry would help him take care of his family. The girl was then married to an older man and became pregnant. Given her age, she wanted an abortion for fear of dying during childbirth. The doctor at the hospital where she wanted the abortion took her home and arrested her parents for violating the rights of the child.
After the summit, I would say that all of the practices of early and forced marriage have a single cause: poverty. Parents do not have enough money to take care of their children, so they force them to marry because the dowry helps them meet the needs of their family. But this goes against the January 10th law 009/001 on Child Protection. This summit taught me to say no to early marriage and to denounce those who encourage early and forced marriages in my country.
I was really lucky not to be pushed into marriage by my parents, and nobody around me was married before adulthood. As Esther, one of the young girls with War Child, said, “parents have to ban these behaviors, they can’t influence girls to accept forced or early marriages.” If I had to face the possibility of early marriage, I would refuse categorically. I ask all girls to say no to early marriage, because it is not good for their futures.