Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, marking the start of their lives as wives and mothers well before they are...
A child is not a spouse
A child is not a spouse
On a hot and sunny day 15 years ago, Baraka Ali and her daughter Ramatou had a conversation under the century-old Baobab tree in their yard in Tchadoua, a village in southeastern Niger. Ramatou had just been told to drop out of school and get married after she passed her primary school exam. Ramatou was depressed. She wanted her mother to let her continue her education and support her. As they sat cleaning the millet that they would pound for the evening porridge, Ramatou could not take it anymore.
“Mother, you know that I do not want to get married. I want to finish my education and maybe become a doctor someday?” Ramatou said.
“My daughter, what are you talking about? Your father gave his approval for your wedding. We have to honor our engagement. You will get married."
“I do understand it mother, but I’m too young to get married now. It will only ruin my life and I can have serious health problems if I ever give birth at the age of 12."
Ramatou looked down at her feet, closed her eyes and tried to regain her composure. She began shaking uncontrollably. In that moment, Baraka recalled a doctor's comments about the importance of education for girls. He told her if the community did not let their girls finish education, only men would be in the delivery room.
Baraka took a deep breath and embraced Ramatou. She wanted to help her daughter but education has a cost.
“My daughter, I do not have the money to pay for your education,” she said.
But Baraka felt determined to support her daughters dream. She started selling her belongings to pay the expenses related to her children’s education. At one point she had nothing left. She was desperate.
CARE agents stopped in her village to introduce village savings and loan associations (VSLA). In VSLAs, women come together to lend each other money so that they can start earning income. Baraka was skeptical at first but willing to try anything to help her children. Baraka joined and immediately took a loan to buy items for children. She participated in a training that helped her understand how to save, invest, and start generating income. Soon Baraka was able to buy a farm and goats and sheep. Ramatou was able to continue her studies and become a nurse.
Fourten years later, Baraka has learned how to read write. She's been so active within the VSLA that she has become the president of their region's federation, and was also elected as a counselor to the mayor.