Dangi (U/W), Sept. 4, GNA - For her, it was just a holiday visit to see a mother who got married to another man after breaking up with her father few years back.
Never did the then 17-year-old girl (name withheld), a form one student of Dangi Junior High School (JHS) in the Sissala East Municipality of the Upper West Region know that she was going to be a victim of elopement at her mother’s new husband’s village, Nabugubelle.
The visiting young man
“I didn’t know him before, but whilst at my mother’s place, I do see him coming to converse with my mother. About what type of conversation they did have, I’m unable to tell,” she said.
“This happened for some time until one day I went to the borehole to fetch water and met my friend who asked me to accompany her to pick something at her house, where I was forcefully picked up by a number of men whilst my friend and other women around looked on without attempting to offer me any help,” she narrated sadly.
She said as she cried, they sent her to one house and left her under the custody of one woman whom she later discovered was the mother of the young man who was frequenting her own mother’s place.
After few days' stay with my suppose mother-in-law, I got the opportunity to escape back to my mother’s place, but the guy kept coming to my mother who was now in the business of persuading me to stay.
School reopened but Fatimah was nowhere to be found, this alarmed Fatima’s uncle.
Mr Issah Kunkun who called the mother to find out why she was not coming, but the mother said that she was not well.
Not convinced, Mr Kunkun did his own investigation and was told his niece was eloped for marriage at Nabugubelle, which prompted him to report the matter to the Dangi Community Based Anti-violence Team (COMBAT).
The committee upon several visits to the community coupled with threats of legal action against the young man, they managed to rescue her, and she has now returned to continue her basic education at Dangi.
Elopement is the second window by which the brother(s) of a lady is/are customarily allowed to handover the lady to a man for marriage to signify the end of courtship.
Elopement (Chiesi) can be done with or without the consent of the lady. The other aspect of this practice is that, a man who wished to marry a lady may also illegally elope the lady without her consent or the consent of any of her family members.
Another 17-year-old JHS girl (name withheld) at Du-West in the Sissala West District became a victim of teenage pregnancy, but was prevented from entering into child marriage by the Community Child Protection Committee.
Upon the intervention of the Committee, she stayed and went back to join form three after six months of delivery. She is now in Senior High School (SHS) form two and hoping to pursue accountancy at the tertiary level after a successful completion.
“When I became pregnant, I didn’t think of abandoning school but the spirit was very low until the Child Protection Committee started engaging and encouraging me on the need to go back to school after delivery,” she said.
“I must say this motivated me to go back to school and still at the SHS when I reflect on some of the pieces of advice they gave me, I become more gingered up to learn in order to achieve my future dream,” she added.
"I made a mistake but with the help of the Committee, I didn’t allow my mistake to pull me down. I will therefore advise my colleague girls to take care of themselves in order not to become victims of teenage pregnancies. Should it happen by mistake, don’t let it ruin your education,” she advised.
These are but a microcosm of the situation of child marriage in the Upper West Region; a canker which has remained a burden on the empowerment of the girl child and a scar on the conscience of society.
Child marriage situation in the Region
Child marriage is rife in the Region as it amounted to almost one-tenth of the married population with the Sissala East Municipality, Wa West and Sissala West Districts being the worse perpetrators of the canker.
According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census data, for persons aged 12 to 14 years, 11.18 per cent of them were married, followed by 17 per cent for those that fall within the age bracket of 15 to 19 years.
The data also suggests that 4,282 out of 8,220 married people were girls, representing 52 per cent. A total of 197 of the girls willingly got married without any customary rites, 24 of them got separated due to misunderstandings, 14 completely divorced, 43 got widowed and 7,942 of them lived a relatively stable marriage.
The GAA project
This situation fueled the initiation of the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) project by Plan International Ghana under the sponsorship of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and being implemented by the Social Initiative for Literacy and Development Programme (SILDEP) in the Sissala East Municipality, Wa West and Sissala West Districts.
According to Mr Moses Dramani Luri, Executive Director of SILDEP, the project was focused on four thematic areas including child marriage; child abuse and gender-based violence; commercial sexual exploitation; and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and employment.
He said to ensure effective implementation; they put together a group of respected people known as “Champions of Change”, the Community Child Protection Committees, and Girls’ Clubs in the various schools as well as the organisation of Girls Camps.
Mr Luri said the GAA intervention led to a total of 45 girls being rescued from child marriage with thousands of them prevented from teenage pregnancy and child marriage; the declaration of 19 communities as child marriage free communities; over 100 girls and young women being engaged in various TVET models; and 30 communities enacting their own by-laws for child protection.
Efforts of Change Agents
Naa Robert Bob Loggah, a Traditional Ruler and a Change Agent, noted that since they were selected and trained as Change Agents, they have since installed Pognaaba (Women chief) to inspire and instill discipline and self confidence among young girls.
“I personally visit schools within my divisional area to talk to young girls on the need to stay in school, complete, and get a job before marriage,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of child protection by-laws and noted that the Change Agents would lobby the Regional Coordinating Council and the Regional House of Chiefs to expedite action to gazette the by-laws that would be forwarded to the regional level by the communities.
Naa Loggah encouraged parents to endeavour to report people who got their daughters pregnant to the appropriate agencies for action and avoid shielding them.
Madam Susana Wubonto, a Science Teacher and also a Change Agent, noted that the GAA capacity building trainings for them had inflamed a passion and motivation to speak publicly for young girls; a thing she’s now doing on radio.
“In addition to the teaching, I had some vocational skills but was just keeping it to myself. However, when I was identified as a Change Agent, I deemed it a duty to pass such skills to other women and young girls so that they can also use it to help themselves,” she said.
“Since I started, I have now trained over 70 women and young girls including those in school and those that dropped out of school on how to prepare liquid soap, shower gel, powered and bar soaps,” she added.
“I can tell you that today, most of them are now depending on it as a business to support their family incomes and others to support their education,” madam Wubonto added further.
According to her, GAA has brought a lot of changes as communities were now waking up to the devastative reality of child marriage and the need for girls and young women to go to school and complete or learn a trade before marriage.
The fight is not over, GAA needs to continue with the advocacy and capacity building and more especially provide resources for the skills training to empower these young women and girls, so that they do not become too dependent on the men which often resulted in broken homes.
Madam Dorcas Danonu, a Circuit Supervisor, Sissala East Municipal Education Office, noted that since the implementation of the GAA project in the Municipality, it had brought a lot of relief to her office when it comes to the issue of child marriage.
According to her, the sensitization programmes and capacity building trainings had made it possible for stakeholders including Traditional Authorities to cooperate, collaborate and commit to ending child marriage and teenage pregnancies in the Municipality.
Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs)
There are currently 40 VSLA groups with an average of 25 members. Average savings per group per cycle (52 weeks) is GHȻ17,000.
Presently, the VSLAs have average membership of 1,000 with average savings of GHȻ680,000 per cycle. Average savings till date (2018-2020) is GHȻ1,360,000.
The Association through its savings, grants loans at varied interest rates to both members and non-members. This concept is empowering a lot of young women economically, thereby reducing poverty and restoring happiness and unity to their families.
Child marriage will continue to remain a scar on the conscience of society until all including government, NGOs, development partners, the private sector and the community people themselves begin to innovatively approach the issue just like the GAA project is doing.