‘Telling my story sets me free’: Liberian child marriage victim speaks out
Liberian student Weedor Kumi, who won the essay competition
Edmund Cooper is one of A World at School’s network of 500 Global Youth Ambassadors in more than 85 countries.
He recently organised a Day of the African Child event in Liberia which was attended by more than 500 students, parents and teachers at Ricks Institute High School in Virginia, a suburb of the capital Monrovia.
Edmund said: “We had a panel discussion on child marriage and quality education for all. The school culture team did a wonderful performance and the programme was concluded with the #UpForSchool Petition drive.”
Another highlight was an essay competition which Edmund organised. The winning entry was by senior student Weedor Kumi on the subject of child marriage – she is still at school at the age of 23 because of its effects.
We were so impressed by its honesty and insight that we have reproduced her essay in full below.
Early/child marriage and the downside of tradition, by Weedor Kumi
Every year we pause to reflect on the challenges affecting the African Child and the prospect and hope for a better tomorrow. As we remember the students that lost their lives in Soweto, South Africa, for demanding their rights to education, we gain courage and motivation to demand for change to current challenges we face today.
Child marriage is a major parasite influenced by local traditional beliefs that are destroying the future of our girls’ children. This year’s African Child Day Essay Contest is a great platform for our voices to be heard on a subject that is engrained in the fabric of humanity and has continued to eat the best of us and stall our development and abuse our right to decide out of consent of who we want to spend our lives with and what we want to do with our lives at the right time and for the right reason.
Students take part in the event at Ricks Institute High School
It has been my overwhelming desire to tell my story on the subject “child marriage” and to share my personal experiences in order to clear my conscience and regain my motivation to forge ahead in my educational growth and total development.
I am a victim of child marriage, but I refused to be victimised. I have broken free and telling these experiences frees me.
Hence, I am coming out alive, better and stronger. The purpose of this essay is to share my story and experiences as a victim of child marriage. My story is not unique to me. It is the story of so many children and families.
I hope this essay will motivate someone to break free from the horror of his/her victimiser. It is also my hope that this essay will change the mindset of policymakers to put a stop to the practice of child marriage and prioritise education for the girl child.
As a child, my grandmother once told me that she was very young when she got married to my grandfather. Evaluating her statement in the context of child marriage, I can safely say that my grandmother married when she was a child.
Here is what I mean – though my grandmother didn’t state the age at which she got married, she did not neglect to use the term “very” when modifying young.
To be young for marriage during the William V.S. Tubman (president of the Republic of Liberia from 1944-1971) era was to be 15 to 18 years of age. Thus, getting married at a very young age would mean as if it is today, marrying between nine to 14 years of age.
Students gather to hear about the #UpForSchool Petition
Let me start by evaluating the terms (child and marriage) taken together to give us child marriage. A child is a young person (boy/girl) below the age of full physical development or below the legal age of majority (zero to 18 years), with the later being the final year of puberty; while marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.
Therefore, with all things being constant, child marriage is the legally recognised union of persons (boy/girl) below the age of 18 to a man or a woman, an adult or elderly person, in a relationship.
Considering the definition above, marriage of such does not meet the consent of the child; in fact it is the parents that are forcing him/her into marriage.
My goal is to highlight the disadvantages associated with child marriage while telling my story. I will give some of the causes and effects of child marriage in the society.
Child marriage kills one’s dream as a child. For example, a child might wish to become a medical doctor, a cabinet minister, etc., but because he/she is forced into child marriage his/her dream dies.
His/her dreams are killed because marriage has lot of expectations. As a wife and/or mother one has to take care of the home and family. In most instances these victims are unable to go to school.
Though I had the opportunity to go to school, I was subjected to all kinds of religious traditions that only made things worse. I was told to tie my head at all times and use only lappas (wrapper).
Besides, it was humiliating as I see it now to be told what to wear, how to look and recite things you cannot understand in the name of religious tradition. If I had not been taken from these conditions, all of my dreams of a brighter future would have been shattered.
Marriage becomes a burden when the person being married doesn’t have the choice to decide whom to marry. A child might wish she could grow up and choose her own life partner but tradition forces her to get marry before she is ready.
In some of our traditions, an elderly person engages a child for marriage as early as six. At that age, you have no idea what marriage is about.
You just become a victim of a pre-arranged traditional burden imposed on you. In our traditional context, once a child has gone through the Bush School (Sande or Poro Society), you are declared ready for marriage.
No wonder why married couples that are expected to be happy in their relationship often look depressed oppressed and disfigured. It is truly a burden to be a slave of traditions that approves early marriages.
I am a victim of this because my mother was forced to get married at an early age. Because of this my way of life changed. My name was changed to Famata Swarry, my dress code was also changed. These are some of the reasons I am still in high school at the age of 23 years.
I was compelled to go to an Islamic school where I had to carry my mat every morning and I was compelled to tie lappa (wrapper) and cover my head all because my mother was married to a Muslim man.
My mother was faced with lot of challenges from her husband, her mates and also her school. She was still a high school student of the St Mary Catholic School at the same time taking care of her home and her three kids.
The head wives abused her rights verbally and physically. She lived a life full of tension and intimidations from her husband and mates. May your soul rest in peace Mama; I wish you were alive to watch me grow up.
This can even lead to death. A girl child is not fully ready, her body not prepared to bring forth or bear a child, or don’t know how to take care of a baby.
If they survive the pregnancy and childbirth, the child can die due to improper care and sometimes the mother dies in the process of giving birth to the child. According to UN reports, the children of African women with at least five years of schooling have a 40% higher chance of survival.
Abuse of rights
I strongly believe that a person has rights that are to be respected at all times. Child rights are abused when they are forced into marriage. This case is with most girls’ children. All she has to say is to answer yes sir to her husband. He makes her decisions.
Greed for wealth or money
Money is one of the main root causes of our problems. In this respect, both boys and girls are victimised.
The parents, mainly their mothers, force or push their children to get marry at an early age only because this person in question has lots of money to offer forgetting to know the life of that child will be controlled by that old lady or man.
Poverty: Our country is also a victim of this. Another downside of child marriage affecting our nation is overpopulation. Because the child bride doesn’t have a voice or control over her body in the home, as in the case of a girl, her husband decides how many children to have.
When the family is unable to care for these children, they join the cycle of poverty. These children are less likely to obtain education and a chance for a better life. The girls are use for child bride and the boys are left lose and end up in the street or become criminals.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my aunties who stood strongly and took my mother from that bondage called tradition and also took me to better school where I had to start from zero up to today.
Honestly, it was difficult for me because, by starting fresh I was taught in a different way and language. I also had to change my name and started to use my Weedor Kumi again instead of Famata Swarry.
Though it caused me a delay, nevertheless I was born to succeed. Child marriage and negative traditional practices continue to affect thousand of girls in our country and trap them in bondage.
It is time for us the young people to take action and demand change. Everyone has right and young people should have the right to choose who to marry and choose their life partners.