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5 powerful stories by girls whose lives were forever changed by child marriage – ANITH
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5 powerful stories by girls whose lives were forever changed by child marriage

5 powerful stories by girls whose lives were forever changed by child marriage


For most of us, a wedding day is something to look forward to. To plan and prepare. Or something to look back with fond memories of a choice once made. 

For millions of young girls and boys around the world, however, marriage is not a choice. It interrupts their childhood, forcing them into perilous cycles that are all too often impossible to break free from. 

Many young women have risked everything to have the right to choose for themselves. And some managed to escape. Now they’re sharing their empowering stories with women all around the world. The stories were presented in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which is raising awareness about child marriage around Valentine’s Day – a celebration of love and our right to choose.

Respect her choice

Abura Bena, or Abu, (her real name has been altered for safety concerns) from Uganda, continues to bear marks on her body for refusing to marry a man her father and brothers had chosen for her. They had traded Abura Bena for cows. She was 15 at the time.

“Men should treat women with respect and women should make sure they select the man they love.” 

She said that in Karamoja, an eastern district in Uganda near the border with Kenya, girls as young as 10 are married off by their families. Uganda has particularly high rates of child marriage, with 49% of all girls married before their 18th birthday, according to UNFPA

Abu escaped, albeit on her second attempt, facing the constant threats of further physical and sexual violence by male members of her family and the man she was forced to marry. 

The image below shows one of the abandoned buildings she stayed while she was in hiding. 

An abandoned building in located in Moroto District, Uganda

Image: Jimmy DOMBO for UNFPA

Today, Abu lives with the man she loves and her two daughters in a small house with a grass roofing. She hopes to one day go back to school, but admitted she doesn’t have the means to fully pursue the education she desires. Abu makes a living growing crops, occasionally doing some work in a gold mine on the border of Kenya. She says her family continues to demand her to pay back the dowry from her forced marriage. 

A 12-year-old girl shows marks of torture she endured resisting FGM and marriage before running away across the border into Uganda to a rescue centre

A 12-year-old girl shows marks of torture she endured resisting FGM and marriage before running away across the border into Uganda to a rescue centre

Image: Edward Echwalu for UNFPA

Her face is marked by scars from her ordeal and she becomes visibly scared when she mentions her brothers. 

But Abu Bena has a message to share with all young women around the world: “Men should treat women with respect and women should make sure they select the man they love. When women are forced into marriage, they have to report it to the police or to someone in their community.”

To be like other girls

Freshta's first new pair of shoes after leaving her husband.

Freshta’s first new pair of shoes after leaving her husband.

“I wish I didn’t have to be a bride, but instead had a chance to study. To be like other girls.”

Freshta (not her real name) from Afghanistan, had dreams of becoming a doctor or a teacher just a few years ago. But when she was approximately 12 years old, Freshta was swapped off to marry a man in his 60s.  Freshta’s father married the man’s daughter. 

During the next three years, Freshta was taken away from her mother and was physically and sexually abused by her husband. She gave birth and was later diagnosed with post-partum psychosis, a serious mental health condition that occurs suddenly after a mother has given birth.

Freshta's mother bought her jewelry to try and soothe her pain

Freshta’s mother bought her jewelry to try and soothe her pain

They were a symbolic attempt to help her daughter deal with postpartum psychosis

They were a symbolic attempt to help her daughter deal with postpartum psychosis

“I always pleaded to let me see my mother. He always refused. Girls in my age shouldn’t be forced into marriage,” Freshta said. 

An empty chair belonging to a schoolgirl whose husband forced her to leave the 11th grade.

An empty chair belonging to a schoolgirl whose husband forced her to leave the 11th grade.

Freshta escaped her husband thanks to her mother, who had found out where she was and rescued her. She was taken to hospital and subsequently referred to a UNFPA Family Protection facility, where she was offered legal counseling and her case was referred to the relevant authorities.

Freshta's cosmetics at her husband's house.

Freshta’s cosmetics at her husband’s house.

Today, Freshta and her mother live in the Herat province in Afghanistan, near the borders with Iran and Turkmenistan. She is slowly recovering. “I want to be a teacher in the future. I wish I didn’t have to be a bride, but instead had a chance to study. To be like other girls.” 

“I want to come back to school”

Pamela Chepoisho (her real name) got pregnant as a teenager in Kenya and was not permitted to return to school by her father. He had already agreed to marry her off. So she ran away and went straight to the headmaster of her school. Today, Pamela is pursuing her studies, but is no longer in contact with her father, who threatened to kill her if she ever returned.

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Just like Pamela, Eunice is back in school today, too. She got pregnant in 2013. Her father first forced her to marry the father of her baby. When the man refused, his father (in his 80s) then planned to marry her instead. She tried to run away, but was caught and tortured. Just like Freshta, Eunice’s mother was able to locate her and report the abuses to the authorities. 

“An 80-year-old man tried to marry mea and I’m only 16 years old. That night I ran away.”

Eunice Lokapei

Eunice Lokapei

Image: Luca Zordan for UNFPA

“I want you to go to university”

Today, there are more than 700 million women and girls married before they turned 18. Poverty and lack of education are among the main driving factors in a phenomenon most widespread in West and Central Africa and South Asia. But child marriage also occurs in high-income countries, too – like the U.S., for example, where it remains legal.

Married life and parenthood leave many of these girls trapped, pushing them away from education and limiting their future options. But there are cases that defy the odds. In many of them, including some featured here, the girl’s mothers play a central and defining role in helping them take back control of their lives. 

I was only thinking about the present. 

Fatima lives in Lebanon with her two daughters, Nagham and Nour. They fled Syria six years ago. Nour was 15 when her cousin asked her to marry him. She wanted to say yes. Looking back, Nagham says she’s not sure why she was so eager to get married so young. “I was only thinking about the present,” she said.

Her mother helped her change her mind. She didn’t openly object, but guided her daughter to think about the risks of marriage at such an early age.

Fatima volunteers through UNFPA programmes in Lebanon, helping educate other young women about child marriage and the risks of early pregnancies. 

When her own daughter wanted to marry, Fatima tried to show her there may be more out there for her daughter: “I told her, my dear, I want you to get your high school diploma. I want you to go to university. I want you to get an important job. But it’s your decision, do what you want.”

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