End to Child Marriage
In Eritrea, just like many countless places around the world, there was at a time, some strongly routed patriarchal tradition with sturdy accepted norms.
Even though the prominent revolution of Eritrean women, which started in the armed struggle for independence, has clearly opened a new narrative of equality and self-empowerment for Eritrean woman; the Government and People of Eritrea are convinced that there are some grey shade areas that need to be enlightened on issues related to women’ rights.As such, continuous campaigns and efforts are devoted in raising awareness while amending conventions and empowering women.
Part of such endeavours, was the conference held last Saturday on the 11th of June, on ending child marriage. In the event, eye opening research papers and statistical documents were presented. Also, there was a specific moment that brought tears to the eyes of the participants; and that was when two young Eritrean women shared their harsh experience with child marriage.I spoke to both of them, it went as follows.
MIHRET BERAKI (age 27)
From her testimony
“… I was born in 1989 in a village called Liban in the Gash Barka Region. I started elementary school when I was seven years old and I was an extremely dedicated student. However, my educational journey came to an end when at the age of fifteen I was forced to marry a man 11 years older than me.
I was very scared of the idea of getting married, but I was too young to stand against my parents’ arrangement of the wedding, and so I learned to live with it.
I had my first child a year later, followed by the birth of my daughter who’s eight at the moment. Unfortunately my husband left me before the birth of my second child, so I was literally abandoned. Both of my babies were born before I even had turned eighteen!
I knew that the only way for me to challenge my problems was to study. I studied hard, despite all the errands I had to run at home, and I got in to high school. For my secondary education leaving exam, I had to go to Sawa and take part in the National Matriculation Exam, my in-laws hated the idea of me going anywhere and they kicked me out of their house.
I went to my parent’s, left my kids with my family, went to Sawa, scored high in the Matriculation and joined the College of Arts and Social Science and later the College of Science in EIT. I am studying Archive and Record Management, currently I am anxiously looking forward to my graduation, which is in a month!
My plan is to be economically stable and raise my babies properly…”
What assured you that education was the only way?
During the four years I spent in my in-laws’, many of my friends came to visit me, and every time they’d come I noticed that I was left way behind them. So much that I was even amazed by their smartphones and how they used them.
I hated to see myself being pregnant, I was extremely lonely. Worst of all I was disgusted by the idea of being dependent on my husband for the rest of my life. I told myself, that one way or another, I had to be an educated person. Therefore, after a four years break, I went back to junior-high school.
What was the hardest moment you faced?
There was a time I wanted to kill myself. And now, even though years have gone by, and I am in a much better place I still can’t forgive myself for it. I think I will live with the sin till my last breath.
This is what happened; I was pregnant with my second child and I was extremely isolated, deserted and I was depressed. I hated myself, I hated my life and I blamed the world for my misery… I then decided to put an end to my life. I knew very well of prenatal cares and all, but I never went to any of them. My suicide plan was based on me refusing to go to the hospital for prenatal cares neither for delivery. When it was time for my delivery, I buried all of the pain, and hid in the house without making a sound waiting upon my death.
A neighbour which came to visit found me just minutes away from death, and I was rushed to the hospital.
I can’t forgive myself for the evil thing I did to my beautiful daughter.
My babies are my biggest support, they act mature and tell me to study hard. Because I am away from home in college they always act as if they don’t miss me, just so that I can keep on going without having to look back at them.
They are both extremely brilliant students. It is incredible how they save their snack’s money to buy me school materials as gifts, and half of it, they tell me to use it for my bus fare.
Are you going to study more after graduation?
For now, I won’t. I rather want to do my part as a mother, I want to get a job that pays me good to be economically stable so that I can support my children. Nevertheless, as soon as my children get to junior high school, I will aim for my masters and even a PhD, God Willing.
Do you have any messages?
For what it’s worth, at least, now my younger sisters won’t go through the same misery I went through, they speak their mind. I hope for my story to serve as an example, I never felt any shame in telling my story. I want to be a model for other girls like me. I am a winner and I know many others could be winners as well, only if they keep on fighting. Lucky for us, we are blessed with a supporting people, government and system.
FATIMA HAMED (age 23)
Are you ever going to get married?
No, ever. I witnessed my mother going through hell, I have a great phobia that I need to overcome if I am to get married again. Although I am most certain I won’t. I run away from many of them that now, to me, the idea of a happily married life is an inapplicable tall tale. I fear for my life.
From her testimony
“… I was born in 1993 in Nakfa, one of the historic places of Eritrea. Nakfa was the harbour of our struggle for independence, after the independence, Nakfa is now a city with many schools and facilities for public services. As such, from a young age, I knew I wanted to go to school, study and be a teacher.
However, life was not easy, as my father left my mother leaving her alone to take care of us. She worked hard to enable us to go to school, and I, too, had to do some jobs to at least support myself.
I faced the issue of child marriage ever since I was 12 years old when a matrimony was arranged for me with a man as old as my father. Since my mother is single my family supresses her, to this day, with suggestions of marriage. My mother is a great gift from Allah, she keeps the supressing to herself and supports me to follow my dreams.
Coming out from a very dominating family with harmful traditional practices, here I am! I just completed my first degree in biology and I am, at the moment, a teacher all the way in Sawa! …”
What is your advice to young girls, who do not dare to speak out, like you did?
I want them to have the courage to say NO: No to harmful practices, no to child marriage, no to being dependent on a man and no to live a life without passion.
I am very committed to advocate for my sisters, and call on them to have a vision for themselves and be the ones to make their own decisions.
As a matter of fact, many girls especially in remote areas, are victims of such convictions. And even just to assist the government’s efforts, I want to tell them to run away and fight for their rights, while letting their voices be heard.
I advise them to sustain themselves, positive, hopeful, and extremely strong and face the challenges they’ll inevitably encounter on their way, then prove every one wrong by being successful.
I want to remind them that there is no pain that does not fade away with time!