For millions of girls in Egypt, reaching puberty can be the first step towards a forced marriage. Too often, girls are taken out of school, isolated from their friends and forced into marriage. Child marriage can leave girls more vulnerable to an early pregnancy when their young bodies just are not ready.
Ayatollah, 15, comes from one of Giza villages in Egypt. She talks about how she was forced to marry at an early age.
“I used to play in the street like all children in our village. One day, my parents forced me to drop out of school to help support our family. My father told my mother that girls don’t need education and that from then on, I was to herd the cattle from sunrise to sunset. Then, I would eat a bit and maybe relax and go out to play with my friends,” says Ayatollah.
“One day, I was playing with my friends. My father, accompanied by an old man who is a contractor and lives next door walked to me and shouted, saying I shouldn’t be playing in the street as I had reached the age for marriage. Two days later, my mother told me that dad married me off to save the family from poverty,” she recalls.
“I learnt that my husband to be was the same old man who lived next door, I told my mother that he was too old to marry me. She replied saying he is very rich and will hire your father in his company and that marriage is good for girls.”
Ayatollah is just one of millions of girls in Africa who experience forced early marriage and miss out on an education against their will.
“I could not say anything, as it was a taboo for girls in our village to object to anything our parents said, in regard to marriage and especially when the man is very rich,” says Ayatollah.
Ayatollah was obedient and married off to the old man. “After a while, I started visiting doctors as my husband wanted to have a child with me even though he has already six children from his first wife! Every doctor said ‘have mercy on this little girl and her body is not ready to bear a child’,” she recalls.
“Nobody seemed understand that I am biologically not fit for bearing children. I know that having babies is a need and necessity but not for children like me…,”she laments.
Despite her experience, she still has hopes: “I wish there had been more help in my village to stop this. Help me find a solution to make this a better place for the other young girls.”
Plan international is calling for increased investment in girls’ education through its global campaign, Because I Am A Girl.