A 17-year-old girl’s visit to her mother turned into a harrowing experience after she was kidnapped and almost forced into marriage.
The form one student (name withheld) of the Dangi Junior High School (JHS) in the Sisala East Municipality decided to visit her mother in Nabugubelle where she lived with her new husband.
During her time there she unknowingly became the love interest of a young man who often came to visit her mother.
Narrating her ordeal, she said: “I didn’t know him before, but whilst at my mother’s place, I saw see him coming to converse with my mother. About the type of conversation they did have, I’m unable to tell,” she said.
Over the period of her stay, she performed the usual household duties expected of a child her age, such as fetching water for the nearby borehole, until an ordinary day’s activities took an unexpected turn.
“One day I went to the borehole to fetch water and met my friend who asked me to accompany her to pick something at her house. There I was forcefully picked up by some men, with my friend and some other women around looking on without attempting to offer me any help,” she recounted sadly.
In spite of her cries for help, she found herself in a completely different town in the custody of an older woman whom she later discovered was the mother of the young man she had seen at her mother’s house.
After a few days’ with her supposed mother-in-law, she managed to escape, and run back to her mother’s place.
Unfortunately, the young man did not relent on his pursuit of her and kept coming to see her mother who shielded her from his attempts to take her back to his town.
After some weeks, the young girl’s uncle, Mr Issah Kunkun became worried when she had not returned to school weeks after vacation was over.
Not convinced about the mother’s excuse of his niece being unwell, Issah carried out some investigations and soon learned of his niece’s ordeal and immediately reported the case to the Dangi Community Based Anti-violent Team (COMBAT).
The committee upon several visits to the community coupled with threats of legal action against the young man managed to rescue her from the situation.
Thanks to the efforts of COMBAT, she has now returned to school and is continuing her basic education at Dangi.
Another 17-year-old JHS girl (name withheld) at Du-West in the Sissala West District became a victim of teenage pregnancy but was rescued from a child marriage arrangement by the Community Child Protection Committee.
Through the intervention of the Committee, she re-enrolled in JHS six months after delivering her first child. 3 years after, she is now a 2nd-year Senior High School (SHS) student and hopes to pursue accountancy at the tertiary level.
“When I became pregnant, I didn’t think of abandoning school but the spirit was very low until the Child Protection Committee started engaging and encouraging me on the need to go back to school after delivery,” she said.
“I must say this motivated me to go back to school and still at the SHS when I reflect on some of the pieces of advice they gave me, I become more gingered up to learn in order to achieve my future dream,” she added.
“I made a mistake but with the help of the Committee, I didn’t allow my mistake to pull me down. I will therefore advise my colleague girls to take care of themselves in order not to become victims of teenage pregnancies. Should it happen by mistake, don’t let it ruin your education,” she advised.
These are but a microcosm of the child marriage situation in the Upper West Region; a canker which has remained a burden on the empowerment of the girl child and a scar on the conscience of society.
Chiesi or “elopement” as it is sometimes referred to is the customary practice of some tribes in which the brother(s) of a lady is/are customarily allowed to give a young lady’s hand to a man for marriage. In some cases, it signifies the end of courtship.
Traditionally, this “elopement” can be done with or without the lady’s consent. In this practice, a man who is interested in any young lady in his community may carry her off at will and marry her without her permission or that of any member of her family.
Child marriage in the Upper West Region
Child marriage is rife in the Region as it accounts for almost one-tenth of the married population with the Sissala East Municipality, Wa West and Sissala West Districts being the worse perpetrators of the canker.
According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census data, for persons aged 12 to 14 years, 11.18 per cent of them were married, followed by 17 per cent for those that fall within the age bracket of 15 to 19 years.
The data also suggests that 4,282 out of 8,220 married people were girls, representing 52 per cent. A total of 197 of the girls willingly got married without any customary rites, 24 of them got separated due to misunderstandings, 14 completely divorced, 43 became widowed and 7,942 of them lived a relatively stable marriage.
The GAA project
This situation fueled the initiation of the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) project by Plan International Ghana under the sponsorship of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is implemented by the Social Initiative for Literacy and Development Programme (SILDEP) in the Sissala East Municipality, Wa West and Sissala West Districts.
According to the Executive Director of SILDEP, Mr Moses Dramani Luri, the project was focused on 4 thematic areas including child marriage; child abuse and gender-based violence; commercial sexual exploitation; and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and employment.
He said to ensure effective implementation, they put together a number of groups to help further their cause; a group of well-respected people in the community known as “Champions of Change”, the Community Child Protection Committees, and Girls’ Clubs and placed them in the various schools as well as some Girls’ Camps organization.
Mr Luri said the GAA intervention led to a total of 45 girls being rescued from child marriage with thousands of them prevented from teenage pregnancy and child marriage; the declaration of 19 communities as child marriage free communities; over 100 girls and young women being engaged in various TVET models; and 30 communities enacting their own by-laws for child protection.
Efforts of Change Agents
A Traditional Ruler and a Change Agent, Naa Robert Bob Loggah, noted that since they were selected and trained as Change Agents, they have since installed Pognaaba (Women chief) to inspire and instil discipline and self-confidence among young girls.
“I personally visit schools within my divisional area to talk to young girls on the need to stay in school, complete, and get a job before marriage,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of child protection by-laws and noted that the Change Agents had to job of lobbying the Regional Coordinating Council and the Regional House of Chiefs to expedite action to gazette the by-laws that would be forwarded to the regional level by the communities.
Naa Loggah encouraged parents to endeavour that rather than shielding the young men who impregnated their underage daughters, they should report them to the appropriate agencies for action.
A Science Teacher and also a Change Agent, Madam Susana Wubonto, noted that the series of GAA capacity building training for them had ignited a passion and motivation to speak publicly for young girls; something she now practices on radio.
“In addition to the teaching, I had some vocational skills but was just keeping it to myself. However, when I was identified as a Change Agent, I deemed it a duty to pass such skills to other women and young girls so that they can also use it to help themselves,” she said.
“Since I started, I have now trained over 70 women and young girls including those in school and those that dropped out of school on how to prepare liquid soap, shower gel, powered and bar soaps,” she added.
“I can tell you that today, most of them are now depending on it as a business to support their family incomes and others to support their education,” Madam Wubonto added.
According to her, GAA has brought a lot of changes as communities were now waking up to the devastating reality of child marriage and the need for girls and young women to go to school and complete or learn a trade before marriage.
The fight is not over, GAA needs to continue with the advocacy and capacity building and more especially provide resources for the skills training to empower these young women and girls so that they do not become too dependent on the men as this often resulted in broken homes.
A Circuit Supervisor, Madam Dorcas Danonu, Sissala East Municipal Education Office, noted that the implementation of the GAA project in the Municipality had brought a lot of relief to her office with regards to the issue of child marriage.
According to her, the sensitization programmes and capacity building trainings had made it possible for stakeholders including Traditional Authorities to cooperate, collaborate and commit to end child marriage and teenage pregnancies in the Municipality.
Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs)
There are currently 40 VSLA groups with an average of 25 members. Average savings per group per cycle (52 weeks) is GHȻ17,000.
Presently, the VSLAs have an average membership of 1,000 with an average savings of GHȻ680,000 per cycle. Average savings to date (2018-2020) is GHȻ1,360,000.
The Association through its savings, grants loans at varied interest rates to both members and non-members. This concept is empowering a lot of young women economically, and effectively reducing poverty and restoring happiness and unity to their families.
Child marriage will continue to remain a scar on the conscience of society until all including government, NGOs, development partners, the private sector and the community people themselves begin to innovatively approach the issue just like the GAA project is doing.