It Takes a Neighbourhood to Stop Child Early and Forced Marriage, Too

Written by Margaret Capelazo, CARE Canada’s gender advisor

They say it takes a whole community to raise a child. This is especially true when trying to prevent child marriage. I’m travelling through southern Benin with national CARE staff and staff from CARE’s partner organization, GRASID. We are here to ensure that our program activities will deliver long-term solutions to young girls in rural communities.

Complex Causes

The causes of child early, forced marriage are complex. Sometimes people living in poverty envision a better life for their daughters if they are married quickly to a man who is already established. Sometimes it’s about alliances between families or social status. Sometimes it’s purely about power: “My children are my property. I have the right to dispose of them as I wish.” Whatever the case, the CARE team is monitoring conversations that facilitators hold with parents, traditional leaders and the general public to ensure that these different causes are being addressed.

Engaging the entire community

As I travel, I’m reminded that it really does take a whole host of people to ensure that girls’ rights, clearly described under international conventions and national law in Benin, are upheld. It takes the community facilitators from GRASID who place women into VSLAs (village savings and loan associations)and educate them on girls’ and women’s rights. The facilitators help the women set up small enterprises to provide their families with extra financial support so they don’t feel the need to send their daughters into early marriage. It takes a popular announcer from the local radio station who spends a hot morning interviewing a local women’s rights activist on the causes and consequences of child marriage and broadcasts the numbers of local help lines that adolescent girls can use if they are in trouble. It takes the tireless ranks of VSLA members who, at the local celebration of the international day of the girl child, put on a skit for the rest of the community, using humour and cross dressing to get people thinking about the consequences of child marriage. It takes the district Attorney General, who volunteers a day of his time to patiently explain Benin’s law on child marriage to rural men and women.

He outlines women’s rights. He explains concepts such as “age of consent” and reminds people of the penalties for breaking the law. He takes the time to answer men’s fears about family honour and to respond to stereotypes about young women’s behaviour with patience and creativity. He is joined by a local women’s rights activist on a radio show. Francine lets adolescent girls know where they can go to get help if they are being forced into a marriage they don’t consent to. Finally, there’s the girls themselves, some too shy to come forward, sitting in the back of the room, still in school uniforms at age 16, but one or two ready to come forward and ask “Why should your greed for money determine the course of my life?” “Where are those responsible for upholding the law when I am being kidnapped into marriage?”

Learn the facts about child marriage – read CARE's Vows of Poverty report (PDF)