Despite government’s policy stipulates that the age for a child to be married is 18 years, child marriage is still common in Sierra Leone, and it is usual for a girl to be married at a tender age of nine (9) or ten (10) years old. The celebration is just too overwhelming when a virgin is married, and that is partly responsible for girls being given as brides at such a tender age.
On 16th December, 2007 Mariama narrates that she was given to this man whom in her words is a “stranger”, who took her off to Bo town in the Southern region of Sierra Leone. She cried all throughout the occasion, pleading on her parents to cancel an event she considers would destroyed her destiny. As it will obviously prohibits her form accomplishing a dream she has always strived for; finish high school and acquiring tertiary education.
My parents cajoled me, Mariama said, noting that their response was ‘you are better off married, and finish school in your matrimonial home’. This was the worst experience that I ever encountered growing up as a little girl, Mariama said, whipping over the fact that she had to leave her home, family, friends, the education she had always yearned for and even the freedom to move freely on that ugly night and headed to an unknown location with someone she had no option, but to call her husband.
As tradition requires, elderly females together with ,myself and the man were to enter into the bedroom where I was to spent the first night with the man they called my husband, to confirm my virginity after the hymen was broken. After this confirmation, there was a big roar and a beating of drums as the nearby neighbors joined the elderly women in singing and dancing.
My life is shattered she said, stating that they arrived in Bo Town late night. I was harassed and sexually abuse on a daily basis by this man she said, adding that she attempted to escape this inhuman act on countless occasion, but every time she tries, she was caught. I accepted the situation as it was and decided to get life going.
Not too long, he got a job in Senegal. We had to migrate from Sierra Leone to Senegal the following year, she said. I began to notice some strange attributes in my physical outlook. I became curious, not knowing that I was pregnant. It was five months old then, she said, stating that she gave birth to twin girls in 2009 when she was just 17 years old.
I felt relieved, thinking that he has got what he had always wished for, and therefore my freedom has been guaranteed. I requested that he allowed me the opportunity to go back to school as I was still within the age limit, but he was so recalcitrant that he declined, stating that there were no English schools in Senegal.
Few months after Mariama had given birth; her husband took upon drinking because he got fired from work. This situation intensifies the crucibles she was going through, she said adding that she was beaten on almost every night, either for sex or for food. Turing off my clothes whenever he was hungry for sex right at the face of my babies slowly becomes a norm for him. The situation led me to even believe he was an animal with clear conscience of what he was doing. He turned into a total animal.
Before my girls could turn two (2) years old, I was already pregnant again with my third child, she disclosed, noting that maltreatments her husband never stops. He continuously beat me, sexually harasses and abuses me, and sometimes left me with no food to eat, even though I was pregnant with my third child. This fortunately led to a miscarriage. I was very much happy she said, knowing her present predicament, and never wanting her children to suffer the trauma she was already into.
Child marriage is a common practice in traditional settings wherein people know little or nothing about policies regarding the protection of the girl child. “Even where I came from, people still give their teenage daughters away in marriage, especially to wealthy business people,” she said, noting that most of the traditional families in the villages do not give priority to the education of the girl child.
Residents of Koinadugu district are mainly Muslim from the Fullah ethnic group of Sierra Leone, and give priority to Islamic education and bother little about Western education.
Marrying of young girls by older men also increases the risks of HIV contraction. Already, Sierra Leone’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate was gradually growing. This is likely so because of widespread child marriage and a culture of polygamy that is practiced by almost all ethnic groups in that region, regardless of their religion.
In addition the child bride is highly unlikely to finish her education. Girl child education not only provides them with the knowledge to participate in their country’s economy, but also reduces the likelihood of early marriage.
At age 22years, Mariama had already given birth to four (4) children to feed and clothe. She struggled tooth and nail to feed her children. I had to work as a nanny for families, she said, adding that she sold recycles just to feed and maintain the home. My husband never changed, she confessed.
One day, I cautioned myself on income generating habits as a strategy to escapee. In January this 2013, I abscond together with my children to my native country, Sierra Leone unknowingly to my husband. Everyone was happy to receive me and my children after a long cut off in communication, until I had to narrate my ordeals back in Senegal that led me to flee from the maltreatments and suffering. Shockingly for me, Mariama said she was gripped with Surprise, as none of her immediate relatives were able to relate with the pains she had undergone. I became lost for words, as even with my looks that depict abysmal treatment, dejection and neglect; all they could tell me was to have been patient with the situation and prayed over it.
I have gone through hell in this tender age of mine, she said, on that could only be characterized by hunger and beating, sexually abused and living on the streets with my kids, and all they could tell me was to have succumbed in the house and prayed over it. The moment they heard my father’s voice, they told me to hide somewhere till dawn and not to tell him that I ran away from my husband’s house.
“Mariama’s capacity to be a productive citizen is cut off, and her right to make a difference is also lost,”
I became so eager to see my father she said, after years of uncountable suffering in the she described as home for me. I ran into his room and hugged him. He was shocked and started asking questions as to how did I got home? What happened? Where’s my husband? Everybody started giving me eye signs not to tell him, but I did. He pushed me, requesting that I better look for the next available bus back to Senegal, and that there is no way her daughter could divorce her husband, and come back to his house.
He left and warned that I depart before he returns. I pleaded on everyone to help me talk to him, but everyone knows who he is, a tyrant Muslim leader who was so firm on his belief, and will die before his reputation will be tarnished.
Since I came back from Senegal, she said stayed with the bakers together with my four children at a bakery building. My dad thought I had left for Senegal she said, adding that she was in hiding whenever her father was around.
The tussle became intense between my father and I, she noted, adding that one morning her father saw her and got extremely furious. He took a heavy stick saying that he will kill me and do not mind spending the rest of her life in jail. He ordered some boys to chase me. He tied me up on a tree and lash me indiscriminately, pointing on the scares on her body she had sustained from the corporal punishment she had received from her father.
This was a man I thought should have protected, she said, with tears pouring from her eyes. I was thrown out of the compound together with my children, she said, threatening that she would burn me alive if I resist going back to husband.
This is something that I had long reported to the Police, but they tend to turn a blind eye on the issue, and call on well meaning Sierra Leoneans and organizations to remedy the plight of her four kids. Please help me, Please help me, Please help me she cried, stressing that she do not want to her father’s house neither her husband. My life and the lives of my innocent children are at danger.