Early marriage among Tuareg girls

Women-run Listening Clubs in the Sahel actively cooperate with community radio stations to widen freedom of expression.

In multiple villages in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, women often organise in civil society “listening” clubs which gather to actively listen to and discuss the programmes broadcast by their local radio stations. In IMS’s Sahel programme we have “twinned” these women’s listening clubs with the local radios and given them support so they themselves can also have a say in choosing the topics for debate, subsequently produced and broadcasted in the communities.

The topics of their choice are everyday challenges in women’s lives – from pregnancies and raising children to poverty, income-generating activities, peace/conflict, crime and politics, etc. The women’s listening clubs define what they want to know more about and what they want to discuss with the wider community. They then organise a discussion in their clubs, sometimes with resource-persons invited. The local radio station participates, records, produces and edits the programs (sometimes with the women involved in these processes too). Thus the women not only get the opportunity to gain more knowledge on what is important to them, but they also get the opportunity to treat their issues of priority, raise their voices and form part of the public debate in their communities.

Radio Gomni Alher in Niger broadcast in the language Tamasheq. Their programs can be heard in Bankilaré and beyond in the Tillabéri Region, in the northwestern corner of Niger. According to UNICEF, around three in four young girls in Niger are married before the age of 18, and one in four before the age of 15. Poverty is a major driver of child marriage in Niger, bringing with it the hope of economic prosperity and an increase in social status for both the girls and their parents. In this episode, local women discuss early marriages and solutions to the issue.

Transcript in English

You are listening to the voice of Radio Peace, associated with the NGO IMS.

(Radio host) Our greetings go to all our listeners who are listening to us right now. Radio Gomni, as you know, still works with the clubs of the Bankilaré community and those of the department under the aegis of the IMS. This is what brought us to the Tabangort women’s listening club to discuss the early marriage of Tabangort girls. You know today, the woman is the mother, she is the one who oversees our education, and all this come down as duties of the woman, because you men travel. It’s the woman who takes care of her children at all times in opulence or in poverty. This is what brings us to discuss the problems of early marriage. This also guides us to discuss with the women of the clubs to find out why these practices still exist. 

(Generic) You are listening to the voice of Radio Peace, associated with the NGO IMS. 

(Host) So, women, let us come back to our topic. Our two questions are: Why do we Tuaregs give our daughters away for marriage before the normal age? Why do we do that?

(Arahmat Biga’s daughter) Club Tabangort, we say we marry off our daughters at this age because it is the right moment and the situation forces us to do so. Anyone who has a daughter prefers to give her up for marriage.

If we leave the girl until she grows old, there is a risk for her to be engaged in messy practices. So what do you prefer? Letting her go for early marriage or letting her become a wanton? 

(Adiza) What you just said is true. I was protecting my daughter and forbidding her father to give her up for marriage to the man of his choice. Despite this protection, the girl would still lie to us parents and go out to date men. As a result, she got pregnant, and then her father tells me to take all the precautions because by opposing his decision of marrying the girl off at an early age means that I wanted this situation. What do I tell him? Please help me. He will not respond to me.

Despite the fact that she was given pocket money to meet her needs, she could still ask the boys at school. Those guys wouldn’t hesitate to propose her some conditions before giving her money.

The most serious thing is, she no longer goes to school and here are the consequences now: she got pregnant while I believed that my daughter was following her classes regularly. She can no longer do anything for her parents, no more hopes.

That’s why we marry them off at early ages, in order to avoid such shameful situations for the family members and also for our friends and neighbours.

People give away their daughters for marriage before the normal age, and this affects us the mothers as their fathers enjoy the dowry. Girls who marry at a young age easily get fistula which does not heal easily. We must go to the health centre every time.

(Tisdogan Rafigh’s daughter) Why we give away our daughters for marriage? This is because they’re in puberty.  However much they say that they don’t need the men, it’s not true. We give away our daughters for marriage to prevent the regrets that come after; in reality, they don’t even go to school. They just follow the boys….

We as the mothers, we do not like early marriage at all; it’s our spouse who forces us to accept it because they get some cattle as dowry, and we are not interested. We hope that this practice will be banned.

(Aminatou, daughter of Alhassan) We say that the marriage of young girls is not good. They must wait until the normal age. It is our spouses that force us.

These young girls who are still underage get many health problems during their pregnancy. What could they do?

I have something to complement what you’ve just said. We have many cases in the Tuareg community. There are some girls who are under 10 years, others have even given birth. They are sad, sick and all this is due to early marriage. What we as women must do is to ask our spouses to leave our daughters until they reach the age of marriage.

(Hadi Tigona’s) I am Hadi Tigona’s. It’s true the girls at this age don’t know anything about delivery. When they realise that it’s delivery time, they moan like the cry of a hen when she wants to lay eggs. They do not understand what’s happening to them. They do not understand how it goes.

(Host) Let’s listen to what the midwife will tell us about this topic. What are the diseases associated with early marriage?

When a girl gets married at an early age, she does neither know the pain nor how to push out the baby. It’s the midwife who helps them to give birth. Secondly if the girl does not know how the process goes, she is likely to lie down on her side. Then she might hurt the baby with hers nails and when the baby gets out from the mother’s womb, it is the mother of the young girl who takes care of all these things. The girls feel sorry.

Let’s now go to the strategies which can help us in case of early marriage of young girls. This is to inform parents to stop marrying off young girls who have not reached marriage age.

Let’s inform the parents who want to marry off their young girls for some heads of cattle, pride or for honour or dignity, that this brings many problems to the girls. We ask the midwives to intervene and counsel our spouses in order to stop this practice. They only think about the outcomes or benefits after marriage.

Hun! Are there other strategies? Let’s listen to the midwife who knows more about it.

(Midwife) The strategy that I advocate for men is: because the men like cattle as dowry before giving their daughters to marriage, they can have their daughter take a contraceptive that will allow her to stay in their spouse’s house until she reaches the age when she is ready to handle pregnancy without difficulties. Then the implant can be removed. She’ll then give birth without any complications. I need your agreements, it’s without side effects and it’s advantageous.

It’s good that the midwife suggests an idea for prevention, but our spouses will reject it. They say that it’s not good because religion does not allow it. Our spouses will curse us if we use contraceptive methods.

The advice that I suggest is to keep the young girl in her parent’s house until she’s of age and then she can be taken to live with the spouse when she is ready.

What other advices can we give to the parents to stop early marriages? These marriages don’t last long. Get married quickly – and get divorced quickly.

We ask those in charge of the project to help us sensitise and raise awareness within our population, our leaders and chiefs, our marabouts, in order to make the act of early marriage an old and backward one.

(Tisigdam Rafigh’s daughter) We’re begging for your help his majesty, forbid men to marry off our girls at an early age. If it is our decision to make, we do not want the cattle.

(Host) To our listeners, our interview will continue with the women from Tabanghort. You’re listening to the debate that we’re putting on our air waves. Giving up a girl for early marriage can cause many problems. If you’re not healthy, even if you have billions, these billions won’t do anything for you. What can happen to girls who get married at an early age, fistula and rejection by their own families? Secondly, giving away a young girl for early marriage can push the girl to abandon her home, her village, running away to faraway places, that can also provoke miscomprehension between family members or mental health problems, so let your girls first reach the normal age of marriage, study and take the spouse of their own choice.

You are listening to the voice of Radio Peace, associated with the NGO IMS.

Translated by KL Translations LTD

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality