Ngaoundere found in the Far North Region of Cameroon experience early and forced marriages at its peak and extreme where three fourths of the women aged 20-29 were married before they were 16 years old. Early and Forced marriages remain an ongoing concern in Cameroon. According to figures from the country’s Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, at least 41 percent of Cameroonian teenage girls are forced into marriage, usually with much older men. The figure goes as high as 80% in Cameroon’s Far North Region.
HAWAWOU Aïssatou (age 20) a student and junior Parliamentarian of the Adamawa Region of Cameroon tells us her story “I was married against my will at the age of 15 to a man old enough to be my father or even my grandfather. I was married too soon because my parents were poor and they didn’t want to abandon the tradition.I got married to this man and became pregnant. I abandoned my studies in order to take care of my child. A Child I came to love in spite of everything, because I eventually realized that the child was innocent. I was depressed and stressed out because I was not ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage. I had a child when I myself was a child. During this period I abandoned not only school but my dreams in order to take care of my home. Today, I mourn five years of my life that have crumbled right before my eyes, within this time I would have achieved big dreams and certainly had a desired and blossom marriage. I cry and can only imagine how many girls saw their dreams shattered this way. With a heavy heart I would like to appeal to the government, traditional and religious authorities, and international organizations to help us advocate for the rights of teenage girls by increasing parental awareness on the consequences of early and forced marriages and advantages of female education”.
Aïssatou’s story is not an isolated one. Officially, forced and early marriages are illegal in Cameroon. The legal minimum age for marriage is 15 for girls, 18 for boys. But in practice forced marriages remain common, with estimates that more than 40 percent of Cameroonian girls under the age of 15 are forced into marriage. The situation is worse in the Northern regions with 80 percent of girls forced to marry against their will.
In effect, early and forced Marriages is the most difficult situation suffered by most teenage girls around the world. As young ‘brides’, girls have to forgo their youth and adolescence years, as they take on family responsibilities. They are unable to negotiate safe sex practices and vulnerable to early pregnancy, contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Too many girls are denied the right to education and equal opportunities, keeping them in the cycle of poverty. Just when girls should be in schools and imagining the possibilities ahead, too many are held back from pursuing their ambitions by social and cultural traps. While a boy’s options and opportunities tend to expand when he becomes an adolescent, those of a girl too often shrink. Half of all sexual assaults worldwide are committed against girls aged 15 or younger. In developing countries, one in three girls is married before she reaches 18 and teenage girls are less likely than teenage boys to start or finish secondary school.
This year’s celebration of the World Population Day in Cameroon was officiated by the Minister of Economy, planning and territorial development, with attendance from the Representative of UNICEF,UNFPA and PNUD, The Governor of the Adamawa Region, Government delegate of the Ngaoundere urban council, and the general population. Activities to mark the day included: Educative talks on the theme of this year’s celebration “Investing in Teenage Girls”, free screening for HIV/AIDS, Diabetes and Hypertension, Horse racing, Football matches, Animation of stands, Athletic walk, Round table conference, Match pass from different youth and cultural associations.
In 2015, the international community committed to a new sustainable development agenda built on the principles of equity and human rights. A central objective of the Sustainable Development Goals is to leaves no one behind. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers a real opportunity to drive lasting change for women’s rights and equality. Goal 5 is focused on the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, these includes targets on ending all forms of violence and harmful practices against women and girls, such as early and forced marriages. Rectifying these prominent situations faced by Teenage girls is critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
All Governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, Traditional and Religious leaders, Associations and civil societies have the utmost responsibility to support and invest in teenage girls in order to unlock their potential so that they can pursue a world of equality. Everyone deserves the benefits of economic growth and social progress. Let us work together to ensure a life of security, dignity and opportunity for all.