A young girl in Burundi tells how her mother's marriage at 12 has affected her own life, and how she is determined to stay in school and not become a child bride.
"My name is B, and I’m in the 8th grade. My grandmother told me my mother’s story.
At the age of 12, my mother was in the 5th grade and got her first period. She grew fast and was very beautiful. She liked to laugh. She was a lovely and open girl. Her teacher came to see my grandfather and told him that he wanted to marry my mother.
My grandmother was against this, and so was my mother. They tried to go to a different school, but there was no place for my mother in another school. Besides, the teacher was a very rich and influential man. He was ready to pay 300,000 Burundian Francs—almost $300—and you could easily buy 3 cows for that much money. The average dowry is one cow.
So the family organized a family council to figure out what to do, and they decided that my mother was enough old to be married. Since she was very beautiful and like to joke, they thought that many boys would be interested in her, and they worried she would become pregnant without being married.
That is how my mother was married. She gave birth to four boys and one girl. The girl is me, and I am the third.
My father and my mother never understood each other. My mother was beautiful, so my father never allowed her to go out alone, not even to go to church or the market. He had to go with her everywhere, and usually he would find an excuse to call her irresponsible or stupid, so he could beat her or insult her. When I was nine, and my little brother was a baby, we found my mother dead—my father killed her. He is still in jail.
I am the only girl in my family, so I had to be responsible for my brothers. I had to carry my baby brother everywhere, and even attend class with a baby on my back. The other children used to call me “wa mugore” which means “that wife” because I came to school with a baby on my back. I remember one day my teacher called me to the front of the class to do an exercise on the board. My little brother cried and held onto my dress. The whole class laughed. I couldn’t stand it. I cried all day and decided to drop out.
Fortunately, some people come to visit me. They were members of the Child Protection Committee (CPC). My former teacher and one of my best friends from school came with them. They convinced me to go back to school and helped me figure out how. One of the community members offered to look after my little brothers, and other people gave us food.
I’m back in school, and things are already better. I joined a school club, where we meet together once week just for playing, and to share information about HIV and other life skills. I still have my best friend who encouraged me to stay at school. She says “school is only the gate to life. If you don’t want to end like your mother, you have to work hard and stay at school.”
The community also helped me find my mother’s family—we had never been in touch before. Now I stay with my grandmother. I’m continuing my studies, and I am even leading the school club. I’m doing well in school—in 8th grade and performing well in all my classes."
B’s mother is one of 39,000 girls around the world who get married every day under the age of 18. As her story illustrates, sometimes even parents who don’t want to marry their daughters feel that it is their only choice. They want their daughters to marry as virgins—so they may marry her as soon as they think she might be sexually active. These girls often have to drop out of school, have more health problems, and face higher risks of violence. The impacts of child marriage pass on to the next generation, unless we can stop it. And we can stop it. Working with communities to support girls, to give them more choices and skills, can give B, and girls like her around the world, hope for the future. Let’s make sure B’s mother is in the last generation of girls to face child marriage.
About the Program: B is part of CARE’s Biraturaba program, from a Kirundi word it meaning: “It is our concern”. Funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Biraturaba is focused on gender equity and Youth Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). It works with 38,710 youth aged 10-24, including 20129 girls. Read more about CARE’s work on child marriage at www.care.org/childmarriage.
About the Author: Générose NZEYIMANA joined CARE international Burundi in February 2005. She is the Team Leader of the Protection and Empowerment Program, which includes Umwizero. Générose has a strong passion for addressing gender, equity and diversity in CARE and in communities.