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Preventing child marriage among Cameroon’s urban refugee communities

Child Marriage Education Girls' Rights Refugees

“I am marrying you off, I need the money. You need to be taken care of. Your brother needs to go to school,’’ says Aminatou, recounting her father’s reasons for wanting to send her into early marriage at the age of just 14.

Aminatou and her elder sister were happily studying at school when they learnt of their father’s wishes for them to marry. “In December 2020, my husband started talking about marrying Aminatou and her 15-year-old sister off to some men in Bertoua in exchange for a huge sum of money, which he intended to use to learn to drive and earn an income,” shares Aminatou’s mother.

News of their marriage plans shattered the girl’s hopes and dreams. They pleaded with their mother to reason with their father as they felt they could not discuss it with him directly as their cultural norms forbade them from defying their father’s wishes.

The family arrived in Cameroon as refugees from Central African Republic ten years ago and now live in a small community in Yaoundé, the capital city. The family had settled into their new home and Aminatou lived peacefully with her parents, sister and younger brother until the plans for the sister’s wedding were announced.

Aminatou at home in Cameroon
Aminatou, 16, is determined to finish her education and stand up for her rights

Wanting to help them, but unable to confront her husband, their mother decided to look for assistance to salvage her daughter’s futures. During a meeting for urban refugees held by Plan International in her community, Aminatou’s mother approached a social worker who agreed to help try to dissuade her husband from his plans.

Through regular home visits, Aminatou’s father was made aware of the rights of children, in particular that of girls, the dangers of early marriages and the responsibility of parents to protect their children from harm. Thanks to this guidance, Aminatou’s father gradually started to change his mind about marrying his daughters off.

With the support of Plan International, both sisters received psychosocial support and follow-up checks over the next 10 months and are now still in school and doing well. They also received training on the importance of education, children’s rights and how to keep themselves safe.

Supporting refugee children’s education

Plan International’s social programme to assist urban refugees with specific needs is being implemented in partnership with UNHCR. The project supports the educational needs of refugees in Yaoundé by ensuring children from refugee families have access to primary and secondary school education. Mechanisms have also been established to protect children and identify cases of gender-based violence amongst refugees.

“Thanks to this programme, my father changed his mind, and my sister and I have been able to continue our education without fear of being married off. I am grateful for everything that the programme has done for us,” says Aminatou.

“Every girl should be able to finish her education, have a job and when the right time comes, get married and set up her own family.”

So far, the project has identified and supported over 110 cases of gender-based violence among refugee children from CAR. However, despite the many successful interventions the project has undertaken, there is still a lot of work to be done explains project lead, Ntsengue Emeline.

“We are grateful for the lives we are impacting every day and hope to get additional funds to support more vulnerable girls and prevent them from abuse and all forms of gender-based violence,” Ntsengue says.

Now 16, Aminatou is very appreciative and optimistic for her future. She is determined to finish her education and teach her friends about the rights of children and the importance of standing up for their rights.

“Every girl should be able to finish her education, have a job and when the right time comes, get married and set up her own family. I will make it my mission to fight for the education of girls in my community,” concludes Aminatou.