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School First, Marriage Later

Child Marriage Education

Mariam and Sitan, both 16, live in Mande community in Mali. Apart from their friendship, the girls share something else: both were promised in marriage during the COVID-19 school closures.

Child marriage is very common in Mande, which covers most of the eastern part of Mali. Immediately following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, Plan International activated a response plan. Our key area of intervention is community engagement which is implemented by a local partner through awareness raising campaigns and capacity building activities.

During one of the project activities, we learnt about Mariam and her friend Sitan who were due to be married soon. Mariam has five siblings. Her father, a former surveyor, died a long time ago, and her mother Kafounè is in charge of the family.

“One day, the brothers of my late husband came to see me and told me that they were going to give Mariam in marriage, given the school closure. You know, here it’s like that, men make this kind of decision and call you just to inform you,” says Kafounè.

Plan International immediately held an awareness raising meeting with the village authorities and parents with the aim of encouraging them to keep girls in school, especially during this health crisis. The impromptu training session focused on the benefits of education for children, especially girls and the consequences of child marriage.

“After the awareness session with Plan International, I confronted my brothers-in-law, because I wanted my children to study. If I manage to feed them now, it is mainly thanks to the pension of my husband who was a surveyor. It is because of what he studied that today we benefit from this pension,” says Kafounè.

For Sitan’s mother Adama, it was inconceivable that her daughter would leave school early. “I didn’t spend a single day in school and I bitterly regret it. That’s why I want all my children to study, especially my daughters. Sitan is my first daughter, she has never repeated a class. When I learnt that the family wanted to take her out of school for marriage, I opposed it”.

Adama knows all about the consequences of child marriage, because she was married when she was a teenager. “My parents married me at a very early age. My first three years of marriage weren’t easy at all and I don’t want my daughters to have to face that. You know, when a girl finishes school and starts working, her father’s family gets the most out of her earnings because here the child simply belongs to the father’s family”.

Having followed the awareness and information activities, the girls were determined to continue their studies so that one day they could provide for their families.

“I didn’t want this marriage, I didn’t want this man and I told my mother,” Sitan says. “We often witness cases of early marriage; we have friends who were married last year. One of them was forced to drop out of school to take care of her home. When she became pregnant, she had many difficulties and complications. She could not give birth in the village, she had to be evacuated to the city. She made it through, she is fine and her baby too. It is sad that she is no longer in school, she was a good student.”

Fortunately, Mariam and Sitan will not have to face this situation. “Sitan has just taken the high school entrance exam. When the results came out, she had passed, so her uncles were convinced that she could do well in school,” explains Adama.

The girls are very happy that they can stay in school and want to continue their studies up to university. “I see a bright future for me and all the girls who have the chance to continue their studies until graduation. Today I dream of graduating and becoming a civil servant to support my family and community. As for marriage, it will come later,” says Sitan.

When asked what she thinks about child marriage, Mariam replies: “Child marriage should be abolished because it is dangerous for the health of girls and hinders their development and education.”

Learn more about our education programmes.