In her family’s house in a rural village in the municipality of Baroueli, located in the Segou region of Mali, 20-year-old Djeba gives a broad smile as she sits her son on her lap. But behind the smile are memories of pain and trauma.
Djeba was a brilliant student who had big ambitions for her future. But at 14, her dreams of a successful academic career were shattered when her family married her off to a man 17 years older.
With no understanding of the implications being married would bring, she moved to the next village to serve as the man’s child bride.
Six years later, Djeba now has 2 children - a boy, 2 and a girl, 4.
Marrying off girls while they are still children is a very common tradition in the conservative area of Baroueli. According to research, over 20% of marriages in Baroueli involve children under 15. These early marriages leave the girls with physical and psychological impacts.
Child marriage trauma
Recounting her ordeal, Djeba compares her life to hell, "I’m suffering a lot”, she says.
During each of her pregnancies, she fell ill and could not even stand. But her mother-in-law wasn’t moved by this.
“She used to tell me that I’m lazy. I want to end the marriage. It’s a nightmare for me", she says.
Such treatment is common for child brides across Mali. Often girls suffer complications
during pregnancy as their bodies are too immature to cope with childbirth. In some cases, they have died while giving birth. Most do not go to hospital to seek treatment for post childbirth complications which, if left untreated, can develop into more serious conditions.
Plan International is working in partnership with the local non-governmental organisation ERAD (Studies, Research and Action for Sustainable Development) and has implemented a campaign to reduce early marriages in 26 villages in Baroueli.
Speaking out and changing lives
Through her involvement with this NGO, Djeba now goes into her community to speak about the issue of child marriage. She has become an active social campaigner, going from door to door and inviting people to participate in open discussions.
Using initiatives like these, community leaders, traditional communicators, local officials and religious leaders are beginning to understand the negative consequences of early marriage.
Imam El Hadj Koke Coulibaly, thinks that behavioural change is imminent. "We understand that this tradition has harmful consequences for girls. It weakens couples and does not allow girls to realise their full potential. Most probably, we will open discussions on it in the mosques.”
For Djeba, her only hope of ending her suffering is by ending her marriage. To do this she
will need the support of the village chief and Iman, who is the only authority empowered to end a marriage.
A proud advocate of preventing child marriage in the village, Iman Koke has ended 15 child marriages over the past year.