Ivory Coast Teen Struggles to Support Cousin in Forced Marriage

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[WOMENSENEWS]–"They want to force me into an arranged marriage," my 19-year-old- cousin Fatou texts me.

I am from the Ivory Coast, an African country. I moved to the United States in 2013 but still have contact with my family back home.

"Who wants to marry you against your will?" I asked. She responded that it was a guy in the family who was nearly 10 years older than her.

In my country the legal age to get married is 18 but cultural beliefs prevail here. reports that the north and west part of the country have the highest rates of child marriage, each with more than 50 percent of girls married before the age of 18. My cousin may seem like she is too old to be a "child" bride but she doesn’t have the same opportunities to strike out on her own as a 19-year-old does here. This forced marriage is just as egregious to me as what younger teens are going through.

When I called my cousin for more information she said her mother had been planning this since the death of her father two years ago. Her mother argued that she wasn’t able to take care of Fatou and her siblings so she wanted her to marry a guy who could take care of her. Fatou, just like her two oldest sisters, is being forced into an arranged marriage and her younger sister is certainly the next in line. Fatou’s parting words to me were "Awa, I am so depressed right now, I am thinking about running away."

Growing up in a world where gender equality is questionable, these words which I have translated from my cousin are cries for help. Fatou is one of thousands of girls in the world who get married without their consent. She is 19, however some girls get married much younger than that. Forty-three percent of girls are married off before their 18th birthday, 17 percent are married before they turn 15, according to . Early marriage prevents girls from getting an education because husbands do not let their wives go to school.

"Child marriage often means the end of education for girls," reports. "It is closely linked to girls dropping out of school, denying children their right to the education they need for their personal development, their preparation for adulthood and their ability to contribute to their family and community." Children from illiterate mothers are more likely to be illiterate themselves and denied opportunities of employment. These children are also likely to fall into child marriage just like their mothers were. found that 48 percent of women aged 20-24 with no education and 27 percent with primary education were married or in a union at age 18, compared to only 9 percent of women with secondary education or higher. Fatou only has a primary education since her parents could not afford to pay for the rest of her education.

Girls Not Brides also asserts that child brides have less access to reproductive education, so they are vulnerable to contracting HIV and STDs, and they are more likely to experience domestic abuse. Girls younger than 16 are more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. "When a mother is under 20, her child is 50 percent more likely to be stillborn or die within its first weeks of life than a baby born to an older mother," Girls Not Bride found. The rate of babies who died at birth from mothers under the age of 20 is higher than for children born to older mothers.

All these girls need a good education. With an education these girls will know their rights, learn how to stand up for themselves and say no to things that do not benefit them. With an education, these girls can raise awareness in their different families and communities about the atrocities of a forced marriage. Educating a girl will lower the rate of child marriage and also help her break out of the poverty cycle.

Recently a few friends I made at a summer program joined forces to raise money for the cause. Even though we lived in Ghana, the United States, Israel, Canada and Pakistan we communicated daily on our efforts. My friends organized booths with games at their school fairs to help raise money. I used this opportunity to raise awareness by speaking to my family. The question was how to convince them to stop something that they were born following? For Fatou’s mother, this is not a forced marriage but the actions of a mother looking out for her daughter. My mother said that Fatou never spoke out about not wanting to marry the man. This is what happens to uneducated girls – they tend to be scared to speak up for themselves. What upset me the most is that even Fatou’s oldest sister who was married under similar circumstances did not step in and stand up for her sister.

After three months of hard work, we raised almost $500 that we donated to , who will use the money to provide education scholarships to girls around the world. By having a free education, parents would not have to worry about paying the bills of their children’s education and girls will be informed of their human rights at school.

By this summer, Fatou will be married to someone she does not love. She may never know what it is like to marry the love of your life and also will not be able to pursue an education. I am angry for not being able to convince her mother that this is not a solution for her. I feel helpless for not being able to stop this from happening.

  • Cheick Dabre (BlaccKingx)

    From reading this, I learned something. Awa this is a nice topic and should be shared, the world need to read this.

  • Keanna Hunter

    I appreciate this article because it sheds light on the many faces exploitation of young women can face. I loved it !

  • Alhassan Umar

    A very inspirational article! I think more people need to be aware of this issue and it’s effect on the global community. Great Job and well done!

  • Atsu Verbeck

    This article not just open the eyes of numerous individuals around the globe. However it convey attention to social orders that neglected to give proper education. Reading this article and knowing the author is a lady itself sharing some cruel things that is going ahead in her family demonstrates when it come to force marriage and pointed out how individuals that basically practice such thing, the greater part of them are not educated. I would like to give a major a yell out to Awa Soumahoro for her remarkable fearlessness and commitment to bring attention to this disgusting culture practice (forced Marriage)…

  • Nassanaba Kone

    This article is so touching, and is just another indication of the importance of education.

  • Oumar Soumahoro

    This is a pretty touching story. It is unfortunate for many of these young girls in third world countries to be attached to responsibilities they cannot quite afford to carry at such age. Poverty is surely a reason for families to give their young daughter out to marriage. Nonetheless, misinterpretations of religious affiliations often lead families to force teenage girls to marriage.

    After carefully reading this story, one can definitely argue that education is key, not only to young girls but also to parents. In my opinion, an educated parent would rather teach his/her daughter to look for herself at such age instead of giving her up to a life she would be miserable and maybe abused in.

    Additionally, let’s not ignore the fact that unspoken norms in African cultures, which prohibits any opposition whatsoever from a kid before their parents, may well be another factor why Fatou isn’t speaking out for herself though she firmly disagree with this situation

    This said how do you think raising awareness could help stop teenage girls marriage? Let’s also take into account the fact that most (if not every) African cultures are still running following the footsteps on their ancestors.

    • Joanna

      Fatou’s mother wants her to marry a man who can take care of her, since she cannot. Perhaps by raising awareness, She’s the First will receive more donations and will be able to award scholarships to more girls across the globe. If Fatou had such a scholarship, her mother would not need to worry about her financial well-being.