Every year, an estimated 14 million girls worldwide under 18 are married without their consent. This practice – child/forced marriage – increases a girl’s vulnerability to health risks, domestic violence and poverty. It also severely limits her access to education and economic opportunities. Tostan, an international NGO headquartered in Senegal, works with communities to share factual information on hygiene and health, human rights and democracy. Tostan also teaches skills in literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and project management, among other topics. Their three-year holistic education program enables communities to make connections between child/forced marriage and its harmful consequences, providing them with a basis to abandon the practice.
At 17, Nafissatou Sabaly was taken out of school by her parents and married, limiting her ability to pursue her educational goals and love of learning. Girls who are forced to marry too young are much more likely to leave school, experience health complications during childbirth and be vulnerable to domestic violence. Their human rights to education, health and protection, among many others, are at risk.
Nine years after Nafissatou was married she divorced her husband and moved back to her home village to continue her education. There she participated in Tostan’s holistic, human rights-based non-formal education program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). She now facilitates the CEP in other communities. Through the use of non-judgmental language, Nafissatou creates dialogue about how child/forced marriage infringes on certain human rights and shares from her own experience the importance of letting a girl stay in school and choose her own husband when she is ready.
When Fatoumata Sumareh – a program participant in The Gambia – was 16, her parents approached her about marriage. She said: "They proposed marriage to me once… but I want to get married at 18 or above, I do not want to get married before that because I am not ready." Through the class sessions on human rights and health, participants - including women, men and adolescents - receive information about the consequences of child/forced marriage, and girls, like Fatoumata, learn that they have human rights that should be respected.
Ayset Diallo is a 14-year-old girl from the village of Diamwély Peulh, Senegal. While participating in the program, she received three marriage proposals. With her family’s support, Ayset rejected each suitor and is continuing her education instead.
The Community Management Committee (CMC) of Brika, Guinea has collectively agreed to abandon child/forced marriage and has prioritized girls’ education and livelihoods in their development plans.
CEP participants and other community members raise awareness about the importance of respecting human rights and abandoning traditions that do not support these rights, such as child/forced marriage. In The Gambia, 170 youth - after learning about their human rights through the program - organized a five-day awareness-raising march in support of these rights.
Over 6,500 communities in West and East Africa have publicly declared to abandon child/forced marriage as well as female genital cutting (FGC) and other harmful practices after being impacted directly or indirectly by the Tostan program. Collective decision-making enables families to delay the age their daughters marry, allowing them to continue their education, to be protected from the harmful consequences of the practice and contribute to the social and economic development of their communities. To learn more about Tostan’s work to end child/forced marriage, visit their site.
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Many of us think that forced marriage only happens in developing countries. However, 48 states allow minors to marry.