By Adah Mbah Muyang, See the Triumph International Ambassador
Early marriage is a common phenomenon in Cameroon. This stems from the over 250 tribes existing in the territory rooted with strong cultural beliefs and traditional practices. With the contributions made by government and Civil Societies in creating awareness this practice has witnessed a gradual but existing decline. However, the practice still seems to have a stronghold on some communities around the North West Region of Cameroon. This paper seeks to analyze the practice and effects of early marriages in the Muslim community of Mbissa.
Mbissa is a Muslim community located on an Island in Ndop - Ngoketunjia Division. This community has an estimated population of about 300 inhabitants with fishing as its main economic activity. Research carried out by MOHCAM reveals that the teenage girls in this community neither go to school nor leave the village to neighboring towns for green pastures. They marry as early as 14 to young men who do nothing but fish for survival or too much older men into polygamous homes. For the few girls who are opportune to get a basic primary education they still have no choices of furthering their education because they will eventually get married.
Aisha, is 16 and her childhood ended at age 14. Instead of going to school, playing with her friends, and dreaming for a brighter future, she was forced into marrying a man twice her age. Without any control over her new life, Aisha, barely a teenager, became a mother herself. No more school, no more friends, and no means of supporting her growing family. She was married off at the age of 14 into a polygamous home. She is the second wife. In Mbissa, Aishia’s story isn’t uncommon. Many teenage girls are denied of the right to make decisions about their own lives and destinies. Instead, they are trapped in homes, silenced, abused and cut off from education and economic opportunities.
Aisha says early marriage is a common practice in Mbissa as many of them are married off between the ages of 14 and 15. Being an Island, the main economic activity of her people is fishing and most young and older men are fishermen or bike riders who work in neighboring towns in the day and cross back over at the end of the day. Many teenage girls like Aisha hardly get through education as they are either engaged from birth into marrying someone they don’t know. For a few girls who are opportune to get basic primary education, their chances of furthering their secondary education are completely blown off when they eventually get married.
Due to the lack of interest in education, there exists one government secondary school in the village with a total enrollment of 50 students per academic year. For the few who succeed to be enrolled in school, their chances of dropping out are very high as the girls get married along the line and the boys drop out to pursue a fishing career with the aim of getting a wife and starting a family of their own. The Illiteracy rate in Mbissa is about 70% as many teenage girls cannot read nor write appropriately.
One would want to think that, some of the teenage girls who get married to men from other villages may be fortunate to have men thinking differently about early marriages and the education of the girl child. But this is not the case. According to Aisha, the location of her village on an Island does not help matters at all. With the lack of electricity and the fear of crossing the river, people from neighboring off shore villages find nothing attractive in the area. Aisha goes further to explain that, because Muslims believe that the girl child should be preserved and not exposed to the world, many teenage girls and women will hardly leave their villages to other places. This restriction goes a long way to limit the options and life choices of these teenage girls. One could comfortably describe the situation of these teenage girls as trapped in a tunnel with no outlet for escape.
Aisha’s community has one health center with insufficient staffs and health facilities. This health center has only one government trained nurse who conducts all deliveries and admissions. However teenage girls with complicated births are highly at risk of losing their lives due to the lack of neither experts nor trained medical staffs.
Mother of Hope Cameroon had the opportunity of carrying out a sensitization campaign in Mbissa on early and forced marriages, the importance of education to the girl child and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. The aim was to educate teenage girls and parents on the importance of educating the girl child and the consequences of early and forced marriages. The MOHCAM team also got the chance to talk with some stake holders, traditional and religious authorities persuading them to allow their teenage girls go school and decide if they want to marriage or not. Though some progress was made, it is however evident that much still has to be done to salvage the situation. The practice of early marriage is still very visible amongst the Muslim communities in the Ndop. Aisha feels helpless as she knows her life has no excitement, no adventures, but to have more and more children and make sure that her husband is satisfied and happy.
Millions of Aishia’s have no hope, ambitions nor dreams for a better life. By supporting Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM), you can help teenage girls like Aisha fight for their rights and transform their lives. You can give teenage girls like Aishia the chance to stand up for themselves and raise a new generation of girls and boys who respect and support one another. By supporting Mohcam today, you can help teenagers learn their rights, develop their skills, and build a better life for themselves and those around them. With more resources, girls like Aishia shall be save from the claws of traditional practices.
Submitted by the Executive Director Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM),
Adah Mbah Muyang is a dedicated humanitarian; a passionate activist, an educationist, a women and girls championing leader, a human rights advocate and community developer. She is a 2014 MASHAV Alumni-Israel, where she studied a course on Violence against Women and Children, She is also an Equitas-Canada 2015 Alumni where she has been trained as a human rights educator. In 2016 she was recognized by the British High Commission as a beneficiary of the Cameroon Women Scholarship regarding women as agents of change. She is currently a Master’s student at the International Relations Institute of Cameroon (IRIC) where she is studying Humanitarian Action. She is the Executive Director and Founder of Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM)
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