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9 May 2022 - News

HOW 14-YEAR-OLD GIRL ESCAPED EARLY MARRIAGE BY A WHISKER IN DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP

By Dorothy Waweru and Fatuma Arte

18-year-old Maryan came to Dadaab Refuge Camp in 2014 after her father's death back in Somalia. By then she was only ten years old. Her widowed mother accompanied her to the camp. Life at the camp was not easy at all.

Due to the livelihood difficulties Maryan's family was facing, her uncle took the fatherly responsibility of taking care of Maryan and her siblings. And as per their traditions, he had a duty to ensure that Maryan got married at an early age to the man of their family's choice.

Maryan was only 14 years old when her relatives almost married her off to her cousin who lives in Somalia. Unknown to her, Maryan's family had made all the necessary arrangements to send her off to her future husband in her motherland even though she was not ready for marriage.

One day, when Maryan was going home from school, she came across her friends who began to shower her with congratulatory messages. Upon asking what the excitement was all about, she learnt that she was getting married.

I was very scared, so I ran off to seek refuge and seek help from Save the Children,says Maryan.

Our child protection community worker had identified Maryan when she joined the refugee camp during their normal routine monitoring visits at the camp. At the time of identification, she was not in school. The caseworker made the necessary recommendations and assessments and Maryan was enrolled in one of the Accelerated Basic Education (ABE) centers in Dagahaley camp where she started her nursery class.

On the fateful day when a panic-stricken Maryan visited our Save the Children Dagahaley field office, she informed us of her relatives’ plans to marry her off. She informed us that her parents were preparing for her wedding and Nikkah (a marriage ceremony where a sheikh would officially marry her off in the Islamic shariah). Maryan cried at the office and said if the wedding was not stopped her education would be halted and her life destroyed forever.

The caseworker handling her case escorted Maryan to her parents’ home to speak to her family. After a lot of convincing and follow-up meetings with the police and the officer in the Sub-County children’s office, the family finally agreed to stop the plan of marrying her and let her continue with her studies.

During our normal visits, we would go to Maryan’s home and talk to her mother about the importance of girl child education. We also told her that Maryan has a big potential and she can grow up to help other girls her age at the camp, says Fatuma Arte, Save the Children’s Child Protection Officer in Dadaab.

Maryan was rescued from early childhood marriage and is now in form two. She is an active and bright student who loves studying and is looking forward to completing her secondary education and becoming the best student of her year. She hopes to join the university to accomplish her dreams of becoming a doctor.

Save the Children has been implementing child protection projects in the Dadaab Refugee Camp thanks to funding from the European Union; http://ec.europa.eu/echo/. With this funding, Save the Children provides children with psychosocial support and follow up visits conducted on a weekly basis.