"I was in the kitchen, helping my mother to prepare the evening meal, when she burst into tears. I came closer to her and asked what was wrong. She took me strong in her arms and replied: your father has made arrangements for your marriage. You will be leaving us soon".
This is the story of Aisha, 15, who fled the Nigerian Islamists attacks in Nigeria with her parents and 4 siblings and settled in Minawao refugee settlement, Far-North Cameroon.
With the numerous financial challenges Aisha's family was facing in the camp, her father made arrangements for her to be married to a son of his friend, who lived in one of the host communities near the camp. Marriage arrangements were made based on the tradition of the village from which the two men originate, as testified by Aisha's mother. "My husband collected the bride price and the handshake that followed between the two men was enough to seal the marriage". How can people be so heartless?" she continued, in tears.
Aisha's case is just one of the hundreds of girl children in the Minawao refugee settlement and host communities in the Far-North Region, who have been forced or are being forced into early marriage.
Touched by the sensitization messages cascaded within the camp by Plan International on the consequences of early marriage and the importance of education, Aisha and her mother decided to act. "I got married at the age of 12. I was a baby myself when I was to deliver my 1st baby. I went through severe pains and psychological trauma, and I ended up losing my baby. I don't want my daughter to go through that too."
Aisha and her mother reported the situation to field community relays who work in strong collaboration with Plan international to ensure children's rights are respected and protected in all circumstances.
Immediate action was taken by Plan international who, after several meetings with Aisha's father, succeeded in convincing him to register her for a vocational training instead of sending her on early marriage.
Aisha can now smile
This was a great relief for Aisha who suddenly came out of the trauma she fell in since her mother informed her she was to go on marriage.
"I can sew blouses, skirts and stylish dresses, and I am very happy with this craft. I will choose my husband and get married when I am financially independent and can take care of my children and husband", Aisha says.
Plan International implement the Child Protection Project in Minawao refugee camp since January 2016. Plan International has so far been able to identify 9 cases of early marriage, of which 7 were cancelled with the support of government social affairs services, and 2 still in cancellation process.
With the increasing refugee population, child protection remains a concern. Plan International Cameroon continues to mobilize funds to ensure all children enjoy their rights and are protected from all forms of abuse.