Friday, 23 June 2017

I regret being a mother at such a young age – Child marriage survivor

TWO years ago, Kende Ayindana was a 16-year-old Junior High School (JHS) final year student in Tanga, a small community in the Upper West Region of Ghana.

According to her, she loved going to school and had amazing prospects for the future.
Today, Kende is an 18-year-old mother to a child, who will be turning 2 years soon.
“I was a student like them” she says, pointing to her colleagues who are seated under the shed of a tree conversing with staff members and partners of ActionAid Ghana, “I was about to complete JHS when I got married and dropped out of school”.
In rural communities like Kende’s, stories like these are all too frequent. Discussions with adolescents about sex and control over their bodies are almost non-existent and sometimes, even considered taboo among parents in rural communities. At the school level, sex education is not delved into and girls are chastised or tagged as “bad girls” when they inquire about sex and their changing bodies.

The lack of education on sexual and reproductive health rights and the absence of infrastructure means that young girls are left with little knowledge about sex and no option with regards to birth control access and use.
In these communities, cases of child marriages are an everyday part of life. Children are married off to older and wealthy men by their parents or family members.
Girls are stigmatised by the community and family members if they should refuse marriage, they are abducted whiles walking to school, their education cut short.
If they should fall pregnant, as is often the case, parents and members of the community disown them and without any livelihood or means of acquiring a living, the girls marry.
In some cases, in the throes of “love” and infatuation, girls disregard all warnings, choosing to drop out of school for marriage - a decision they realise, too late, is very far from what they envision.
Like most child marriages, Kende’s rights were taken away from her by her “husband”:
“I passed through series of abuse and I regret being a mother at such a younger age. The man I was married to also left me for Accra.”
But this is where her story is different. With motivation from her peers to come back to school and the assistance of her mother, who takes care of her child, Kende is back in school fighting for a way to end the spiral of poverty:
“My friends will tell me about what they are learning in school and at the club meetings, their future dream careers and how education is important. My mother also encouraged me to listen to what my friends were saying. She assured me that she would take care of my baby if I went back to school”.
Currently, Kende is back in school, although she had to repeat classes to catch up with her colleagues. She is determined to make education her top priority: “The messages from my friends made me understand that education is the key to my future. I am back in school and in Form Two at Tanga community. My child is one and half years and lives with my mother.”
Kende is now a member of ActionAid’s Girls’ Club and is surrounded by a tight knit group of girls who understand and know their rights, and are not afraid to claim them.
“I am no more with the man who deceived me and impregnated me. I am now focusing on my education. I want to advise girls that they should focus on their books and reject the demands of these boys and men who use sweet words to deceive them for education is the key.They should focus on their books.”
ActionAid’s collaborative End Child Marriage campaign with UNICEF is strengthening girls’ clubs in schools by training their patrons and executive members to use a designed girls’ club manual in facilitating their club meetings. Where no clubs exist, the campaign is encouraging schools to set up clubs.
The aim of these clubs is to have a platform to discuss and address relevant concerns or challenges girls face. Sessions held during club meetings include making them conscious of their rights, entitlements and responsibilities, as well empowering girls to demand accountability from duty-bearers, including parents, teachers, community leaders and the government.