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Saying ‘no’ to forced marriage in Ghana

Girls hold hands at Goriko School,Ghana Teresa Menka

Girls' clubs in northern Ghana teach girls about their rights and help motivate them to stay in school

Imagine being locked up against your will in a dark room, fed little and with no hope of escape unless you agreed to marry a man you had never met. This is exactly what happened to Jenny*, a 17 year old girl living in northern Ghana. Perhaps more upsetting is that Jenny’s incarceration was done so with the full support of her family. 

Jenny refused to marry, so she was kept locked up until friends and club leaders from her VSO-supported girls’ club, assisted by the police, were able to free her.

Forced marriage in Ghana

Early and forced marriage is illegal in Ghana. Yet it is still common practice – particularly in poor and rural areas. In Ghana’s most recent population census (2010), it was estimated that 5.4% of children aged 12-17 were married, accounting for as many as 176,000 boys and girls.

Bashirudeen Yakubu, from VSO partner, Link Community Development, outlines the problems in Talensi and Nabdan districts:

“When somebody is marrying a daughter, after a short period of time they are expected to get some cows – the family receives four cows, four cattle, which is the expected bride price.” Bashirudeen continues “The districts are generally poor by nature so many of the people would want to marry their daughters out early. Having a daughter is seen as a blessing because they already feel that they have four cows in the bag”

Girls at Goriko School, Ghana Teresa Menka

Girls at Goriko School, Talensi district.

Girls’ clubs

As part of our work supporting vulnerable children to access education in Ghana we work alongside local partner, Link Community Development, to run girls’ clubs.

Children can attend on a weekly basis and as part of the numerous activities, members are taught their rights, the benefits of staying in education and the issues of early marriage. On top of this local women who’ve succeeded in their careers – or who were married young themselves – mentor the girls and keep them motivated to complete their education.  

In Talensi and Nabdan districts, VSO and Link Community Development run 40 girls’ clubs with a membership of over 2,000 school-aged girls attending on a regular basis.

Jenny’s story

“One day my sister-in-law called me and told me she had a man to give me to. I said ‘No, I’m a young girl. I’m attending school. Why should I marry?’ “

With her mind set on a career in the military, Jenny is working hard to graduate school and has no intention of getting married at this stage of her life. She firmly refused the advances made by her sister-in-law on behalf of a friend.

Locked up

Unfortunately her sister-in-law and mother were not understanding. They tricked her in to visiting her brother’s house, where men were waiting to lock her in a room. She was given an ultimatum – marry or stay locked up.

“Soon after [I refused the initial proposal], my mother sent me to my sister-in-law’s. Some boys were already there, they caught me and locked me in a room. I spent four weeks there.”

They caught me and locked me in a room. I spent four weeks there.

Luckily for Jenny, as a member of the local girls’ club, the leaders realised Jenny was missing. They raised the alarm and began looking for her. The police came looking and Jenny was eventually freed.

It is a testament to her character and resolve that she held out in poor conditions for the four weeks it took to free her.

Back at school

Jenny is now back at school and is more determined than ever to complete her studies. However she still has to live with her family’s anger at her decision.

“Some days I go home and they won’t give me any food,” she says. The club helps, providing Jenny with meals as well as clothing and school books. It’s not easy for her, but Jenny doesn’t regret her choice for a second: “If it was not for the club I now would be married. I would have given birth. It is through the club that I am still here at school.”

If it was not for the club I now would be married. I would have given birth.

A second chance

Sadly, far too many girls don’t get this second chance. Some are married as young as 12, and many fall pregnant years before their bodies are ready to cope, causing immense physical and mental distress. This isn’t just happening in Ghana, forced marriage is a problem occurring in countless poor communities around the world.

*Name has been changed.

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