Returning to school after escaping child marriage

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 - 15:51

In recent years, the international community has begun to place increased attention on girls’ education generating a better understanding of the underlying causes and consequences of the disparities, and an international consensus on the need to address the issue. Much has been done to create awareness and demonstrate that change is not only necessary but also possible.

In the long-term Millennium Development Goal 3, which focusses on eliminating gender disparities in education, is one of the most important mechanisms for addressing women’s marginalization and exclusion. However, getting girls into school is only part of the process and unfortunately to date much less emphasis has been placed on what actually happens in the classroom. As a result, although progress towards gender parity continues, many countries will not achieve gender parity in education by 2015 and had the world achieved gender parity at primary level by 2008, another 3.6 million girls would now be in school (UNESCO, 2011).

In 2004, ActionAid undertook research into the obstacles to girls’ education in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America demonstrating that gender stereotypes entrenched in traditions, customs and religious beliefs help perpetuate circumscribed notions about the position and worth of girls in society - limiting their capacity to enjoy some of their most fundamental human rights. In many cases, girls’ every day experiences are also conditioned and controlled by various forms of violence at home, at school and within the wider community.

Across the world, violence against girls and women takes a worrying array of forms ranging from physical, emotional or sexual abuse, to institutionalized forms of repression and control that serve to limit women and girls’ choices and decision-making power over their own bodies such as female genital mutilation and early marriage. All of these forms of violence constitute violations of women and girls’ fundamental human rights.

Early marriage is increasingly being recognized as one of the main barriers to girls’ education and evidence gathered in countries which implicitly or explicitly condone the practice illustrate the constraints forced upon girls lives. Early marriage, and the consequent implications of childbearing and domestic labour, not only place serious limitations on girls’ capacity to enjoy their rights to education and to develop to their fullest potential - but also in many cases leads to serious health implications and, in some instances, death.

Over the past 38 years ActionAid has been working to increase access to quality primary education globally. Emphasizing a rights-based approach our mission objective on education – improve the quality of public education for all children and support youth to become drivers of change towards a poverty-free planet -  focuses on two key change promises:

  • Transforming education for girls and boys

  • Harnessing youth leadership to end poverty and injustice

Key to achieving these goals is challenging and transforming the socio-economic and political factors keeping girls out of school through human rights based approach framework. Much of ActionAid’s education work seeks to focus on understanding the root causes of discrimination against girls and its impact on their ability to enjoy their education rights.

By using a combination of research, community-based initiatives and advocacy, the organization has been able to raise awareness of the links between violence and education, develop examples of best practice and lobby for concrete changes in policy and practice.

Flagship examples of this work include two multi-country girls’ education initiatives being implemented across Sub-Saharan Africa: Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria and Tanzania and Stop Violence Against Girls in School.

In the context of its new strategy ‘People’s Action to End Poverty’, which focuses on holding governments to account for public services, transforming education for all children and increasing women and girls’ control over their own bodies, ActionAid is engaged in looking at girls’ empowerment through a rights-based perspective.

Using a 12-point charter, developed in collaboration with girls themselves, ActionAid has been calling on the international community to implement existing international frameworks, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to recognise the importance of violence and other barriers to girls’ education by making these the subject of new targets in the MDGs.

Case studies

Case study no. 1

Janet Rwodzi, 18 years old, is doing form 3 at Nyahonye Secondary school. She dropped out of school in 2010 because she had been impregnated by her boyfriend and her parents also chased her away from home to go to her husband. Living with her boyfriend was like hell on earth since he abused her. He used to beat her and made her work day and night and disregarding her condition - she was always sick. The husband later on took in another wife arguing that she was too young and inexperienced to satisfy his sexual needs.

Life was now unbearable and at that time she was now due to deliver, with the conditions she was living in she decided to go back home since her husband had rejected her. She gave birth to a baby boy who is now 11 months. Life has not been easier with a child and the father is not supporting his child. She was always stressed and lost all her friends from school.

I am so happy to be back in school after 2 years of dropping out due to teenage pregnancy and early marriage. My dream of becoming an accountant can now be achieved. Thank you FACT Rusape and Action Aid for taking me back to school

She expressed her appreciation to FACT and AAIZ for carrying out the Girls not Brides Campaign because it made her parents realise that her being impregnated does not mean she was promiscuous and a complete right off

Case study no. 2

Maria was raped by my uncle and fell pregnant. She dropped out of school in 2010 first term whilst in form three. She now has an 18 months old son. ActionAid Zimbabwe (AAIZ) through FACT Rusape helped her back to school.

I am grateful to that because my future had been blurred due to teenage pregnancy. My professional dream of being a medical doctor can now be achieved.

"Thank you Fact Rusape and Action Aid for paying my school fees!"

Maria who is now 17years old. She is one of the 20 victims of early marriages and teenage pregnancy, who received educational support from FACT Rusape and ActionAid Zimbabwe. She is now doing form three at Gwindingwi Secondary school in Makoni and is doing very well in school.

Case study no. 3

Clara was another girl child who was forced to drop out of school in order to get married as a way of appeasing the dead spirit (kuripa ngozi in local language).

By then she was only 12 years and was doing grade 6 at one of the local schools. Her rescue came through the work of the Child Protection Committees which was trained by FACT and AAIZ. The committee made a follow up to the case of the child until they succeeded in convincing the parents of the child to take her back from the forced marriage family and negotiate for other means of paying the soul of the dead spirit. FACT and AAIZ also helped her through offering counselling and psychosocial support to the child.

Clara is now back in school studying in grade 7. She had been moved from her parents to stay with a close relative in another area to avoid embarrassment from local people. Clara is so happy to be back with her family as well as being in school.