When a Problem is Attacked at the Root, It Is Eradicated

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Assoumanou Nihade, lauréate du concours Blog4Dev auTogo Assoumanou Nihade, lauréate du concours Blog4Dev auTogo

She: “Nana, can you tell me again how Togo managed to end early marriage?  I never get tired of hearing you talk about it.”

Me: “But I’ve told you a thousand and one times! Let’s switch roles—you will tell me about it and that will let me know whether you were listening carefully all the other times.”

She: “Okay, Nana. I want you to listen well.”

I would simply smile at her …

She: “For a very long time, people sought to end early marriage and its negative effects. However, when the problem appeared to be resolved once and for all, the figures showed that the struggle was far from over. People therefore understood that the problem had to be attacked at the root in order to eradicate it. And do you know what was done?”

Me (pretending not to know): “No, but I’m waiting on you to tell me.”

She: “Well, in this country, the problem was much more common in Muslim communities and was rooted in customs and traditions. The first step therefore was to get the traditional and religious leaders on board by organizing open discussions in French and in the local languages. The purpose of these discussions was to explain the reasons for the opposition to early marriage and to call on these leaders to join in the effort to combat it. It was not easy but it was important to enlist their support. The next step was the start of awareness-raising work in the villages. Local languages were used to explain the effects of these marriages on the health and future of young girls, the victims of this practice. There were also discussions between the men and a moderator to convey the values held by ‘real men’—those who do not ruin the future of their little sisters or daughters but instead help build one for them. And

since the religious leaders were also involved, it was not uncommon to hear Imams deliver awareness-raising sermons on this issue during prayers in order to explain that the incorrect interpretation of religious passages was also behind this practice. And the most fascinating and innovative development was that in the different communities, community or village chiefs appointed persons who were supposed to serve as their eyes and ears. They were young people who monitored what was happening and had to report to the chiefs as soon as they got wind of the fact that preparations for the marriage of a minor were underway. Because of these informers, several young girls were rescued and once their parents and future husbands were arrested by the local authorities, they were ordered to perform community service. At the same time, girls throughout the country were provided with reproductive health education and access so as to avoid early pregnancies, often one of the reasons for early marriage. And because young adolescent girls often appear to be older than they are, a new law made it mandatory to present the birth certificates of the future spouses to the authorities for both traditional and religious marriages, in order to prove that they were not underage. This led to improvement in the birth registration system.

Me: “This did not happen overnight, you know. It was a long struggle that also drew its strength from the different programs to combat poverty and hunger, which were being carried out at the same time.”

This is the discussion I hope to have with my young daughter in 2050. I cling to hope because when the roots of a tree are destroyed, it topples and does not grow back.


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