From darkness to light: Ending child, early and forced marriage in Benin

CARE Canada program officers Evelyne Morin and Sarah Anderson recently travelled to Mali and Benin to report back on CARE’s TEMPS project, which works with communities to end child and early forced marriage. The following is an interview that Evelyne and Sarah completed with project participant Odette Yedjendou from Benin.

Girls in communities in Benin and Mali are often married before they are 18 years old. Sadly, it is a daily reality for many young girls around the world. In fact, every 2 seconds, a girl under 18 is forced into marriage (UN).

I recently returned from an empowering trip to Benin where I met many inspiring people working to create lasting change within their communities. Odette Yedjendou is one of these incredible people working to end child and early forced marriage in her village of Tohouehoue in Couffo, Benin.

Odette is a mother of five and a member of a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). She has also taken part in CARE’s TEMPS (Travaillons Ensemble contre les Mariages Précoces) project which aims to prevent child, early and forced marriage. As part of the project, she participated in the recording of a radio show for the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence campaign in October 2016.

During the community dialogue sessions organized as part of the project, women from VSLAs learn about the harms associated with early marriage, children’s rights, parents’ responsibility for their children’s sexual health education, the importance of keeping young girls (and boys!) in school, and the consequences of early marriage and early pregnancy. These sessions also provide women with an opportunity to talk about their concerns as mothers and to find answers to their questions.

Participants of these dialogues are told that if they know of an early marriage that is being organized, they should contact one of the project’s facilitators or the Social Promotion Center. More and more arranged child marriages are being stopped.

The project emphasizes examining the causes of child, early and forced marriage, which are often deeply rooted in societal and cultural beliefs surrounding the gender roles attributed to women and girls. The inequality often faced by women and girls means their opinions and wishes may often go unheard. Poverty also plays a huge role in causing early marriage as it often means one less mouth to feed and receiving a dowry payment. Most countries with high rates of early marriage already have laws making the practice illegal (although in Mali the legal age for girls to get married is 16 years old, compared to 18 years old for boys); however, laws alone are not enough. Governments need to enforce these laws.

When Odette started to attend meetings and discuss early marriage, she began to have discussions with her husband about what the TEMPS project had taught her about early marriage for children and how vital education is. Odette now discusses responsible sexual behaviour with her children, both sons and daughters. They talk about being responsible and mature, about abstinence and contraception. She is now open with her children and answers any questions they may have. Odette is very thankful to CARE and the Government of Canada for implementing the TEMPS project in her community.

“Before the project started, it’s as if we were in the dark,” she says.

Through the TEMPS project and other projects implemented in the region, women have learned that they have the right to voice their opinion in regards to their daughters’ futures. They understand how important it is for girls to go to school to have a better future. Since the project started in March 2015, Odette noticed that early forced marriages have become fewer thanks to this new culture of awareness in the community.

You can help prevent child, early and forced marriage.